The "value added" of neurocognitive testing after sports-related concussion

Derk A Van Kampen, Mark R Lovell, Jamie E Pardini, Michael W Collins, Freddie H Fu
American Journal of Sports Medicine 2006, 34 (10): 1630-5

BACKGROUND: Neurocognitive testing has been endorsed as a "cornerstone" of concussion management by recent Vienna and Prague meetings of the Concussion in Sport Group. Neurocognitive testing is important given the potential unreliability of athlete self-report after injury. Relying only on athletes' reports of symptoms may result in premature return of athletes to contact sport, potentially exposing them to additional injury.

HYPOTHESIS: Use of computer-based neurocognitive testing results in an increased capacity to detect postconcussive abnormalities after injury.

STUDY DESIGN: Case control study; Level of evidence, 3.

METHODS: High school and college athletes with a diagnosed concussion were tested 2 days after injury. Postinjury neurocognitive performance (Immediate Postconcussion Assessment and Cognitive Testing) and symptom (postconcussion symptom) scores were compared with preinjury (baseline) scores and with those of an age- and education-matched noninjured athlete control group. "Abnormal" test performance was determined statistically with Reliable Change Index scores.

RESULTS: Sixty-four percent of concussed athletes reported a significant increase in symptoms, as judged by postconcussion symptom scores, compared with preinjury baseline at 2 days after injury. Eighty-three percent of the concussed sample demonstrated significantly poorer neurocognitive test results relative to their own baseline performance. The addition of neurocognitive testing resulted in a net increase in sensitivity of 19%. Ninety-three percent of the sample had either abnormal neurocognitive test results or a significant increase in symptoms, relative to their own baseline; 30% of a control group demonstrated either abnormalities in neurocognitive testing or elevated symptoms, as judged by postconcussion symptom scores. For the concussed group, use of symptom and neurocognitive test results resulted in an increased yield of 29% overreliance on symptoms alone. In contrast, 0% of the control group had both symptoms and abnormal neurocognitive testing.

CONCLUSION: Reliance on patients' self-reported symptoms after concussion is likely to result in underdiagnosis of concussion and may result in premature return to play. Neurocognitive testing increases diagnostic accuracy when used in conjunction with self-reported symptoms.

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