We enjoy contributing to the Free Open Access Medical education (FOAM) community. Creating FOAM is not free and requires significant costs in time and money. Yet, we find this investment invaluable and appreciate everyone who listens, as well as those who champion our endeavor (including the supportive people in our life that tolerate “FOAMcast dates” and tiptoe around whilst recording). We would also like to thank everyone who has contributed by means of post-publication peer review (Brett Schupack, Dr. Marc Probst, Dr. Gabriel Cade, Dr. Iain Beardsell, and countless others). Please continue to not only let us know when we get it right, but also when we get it wrong. We appreciate the suggestions, praise, feedback, and corrections.
Given our love of spaced repetition, we review our favorite pearls and mnemonics from the past year.
Cord – complete cord syndrome that persists longer than 24 hours is highly unlikely to have any motor recovery. These patients need urgent intervention. This is we must differentiate between the complete and incomplete cord syndromes. Complete = “total loss of motor power and sensation distal to the site of the spinal injury.”
Knee/Leg– Beware knee dislocations. Of patients with popliteal disruption, the amputation rate rises to 90% 8 hours after the injury without surgical intervention.
Knee Dislocation Algorithm
Time is skin?
Hey Jeremy, re burns – surely needed a ‘Time is skin’?? @FOAMpodcast
Caution with calcium channel blockers – may lead to hyperkalemia or myocardial depression
Dantrolene has also been used in severe dinitrophenol (industrial chemical and weight loss supplement) toxicity – see this Poison Review post.
The Bread and Butter
We cover syndromes associated with psychiatric medications and polypharmacy including neuroleptic malignant syndrome (NMS), serotonin syndrome, and some extrapyramidal side effects. We do this based on Rosen’s Emergency and Tintinalli. But, don’t just take our word for it. Go enrich your fundamental understanding yourself.
Ref: Boyer EW, Shannon M. The serotonin syndrome. N Engl J Med. 2005;352:(11)1112-20.
Neuroleptic Malignant Syndrome
Caused by atypical antipsychotics, rare, idiosyncratic and may persist for 2+ weeks after discontinuation of the offending medication
Symptoms – Varied diagnostic criteria but requires temp >100.4F + muscle rigidity + at least two of the following (in rough order of frequency):
Elevated creatine kinase
Labile blood pressure
Treatment – remove offending agents, supportive care (intravenous fluids, cooling), benzodiazepines. Dantrolene, amantadine, and bromocriptine are not recommended.
(PV card from Academic Life in Emergency Medicine). Caution with the elderly as these symptoms may be attributed to infection or delirium (and vice versa).
Symptoms – Classical clinical triad of AMS + Autonomic instability (Hyperthermia, Tachycardia, diaphoresis) + Neuromuscular Abnormalities: Myoclonus, ocular clonus, rigidity, hyperreflexia, tremor. Yet like most clinical triads, this performs poorly. The Hunter Criteria are often used (Sensitivity ~84%):
Serotonergic agent plus 1 of the following:
Inducible clonus + agitation or diaphoresis
Ocular Clonus + agitation or diaphoresis
Tremor + hyperreflexia
Hypertonia + temp >38F AND ocular clonus or inducible clonus
Serotonin syndrome often begins with akathisia (restlessness) and body systems become increasingly “ramped up” with tremors, followed by altered mental status, and then incereasing amounts of rigidity (inducible clonus -> Sustained clonus (+/- ocular clonus) -> Muscular rigidity -> Hyperthermia -> Death)
Causes – While often associated with antidepressants, polypharmacy seems to be the culprit here. Serotonin syndrome is commonly associated with some of these medications
Question 1. A 35-year-old man presents with fever, hypertension and altered mental status. He was recently started on haloperidol for schizophrenia. Physical examination reveals a confused patient with muscle rigidity.
1. C. FOAMcast editorial: This is an exercise in selecting the *best* answer, not the one that is most correct. You’ve probably noted that a benzodiazepine is not an option, the next best option is dantrolene.
This patient presents with signs and symptoms concerning for neuroleptic malignant syndrome (NMS) and should be treated with dantrolene. NMS is a life-threatening complication of neuroleptic drug treatment. It is rare and only effects 0.5 – 1% of patients receiving these drugs. Although it is more common with use of the typical neuroleptic medications, it can also be seen with the atypical agents. It usually occurs within the first few weeks of starting neuroleptic medications but can also be seen after an increase in dosage. NMS is characterized bymuscle rigidity, fever, altered mental status and autonomic instability. Muscle contraction leads to an elevated serum creatinine kinase. Due to similarities, the disease may be confused with serotonin syndrome. NMS can become complicated by respiratory, hepatic or renal failure, cardiovascular collapse, coagulopathy or gastrointestinal hemorrhage. Dantrolene is a direct acting muscle relaxant that can be beneficial in severe cases.
Temperature – often causing burns down to the level of the vocal cords, but not below.
Toxins – products of combustion such as cyanide, carbon monoxide, and hydrogen sulfide are asphyxiants and impair oxygen utilization
Irritants – inhaled particulates irritate airways
Airway edema peaks at 24-48 hours
Diagnosis made on bronchoscopy
Nebulized heparin, N-acetylcysteine, and albuterol protocol
May be beneficial, but protocols based on small studies. Rosen gives a head nod to this regimen, yet the evidence is questionable [1-3].
Nebulized heparin can be used at 10,000 international units every 4 hours, followed by nebulized NAC & albuterol 2 hours later for a total of 7 days.
Nebulized heparin may help prevent formation of airways casts.
NAC may have a mucolytic effect and help scavenge free radicals.
Albuterol added to prevent bronchospasm
Alternating nebulized heparin and NAC may:
Improve P/F ratio (not a patient centered outcome)
Decrease ventilator days
Reduce the development of acute lung injury
The Bread and Butter
We cover burns including nomenclature, fluid resuscitation, burn center referral criteria, and more. We do this based on Rosen’s and Tintinalli. But, don’t just take our word for it. Go enrich your fundamental understanding yourself.
Classically, burns were described in degrees but are now described by the degree of thickness (except, apparently, fourth degree burns). At FOAMcast, we like to remember these distinctions by thinking about the Egyptian flag, with the flag pole representing fourth degree burn or burns essentially down to the bone.
The Parkland Formula is probably one of the most well known but both this formula and the modified Brooke formula have led to fluid “creep” or over-resuscitation, which may have lasting consequences. Major guidelines and Rosenalli approve another method, the “Rule of Tens.”
Question 2. A 52-year-old woman is brought to the emergency department with burns from a house fire. Physical exam reveals superficial burns over her entire left arm and partial-thickness and full-thickness burns covering her entire right arm, her anterior right leg and anterior trunk.
1. C. Burn classification is based on burn depth. Second-degree burns are classified into superficial and deep partial-thickness burns. Deep partial-thickness burns extend into thereticular dermis. Skin color is usually a mixture of red and blanched white, and capillary refill is slow. Blisters are thick-walled and commonly ruptured and the skin may appear leathery white. Two-point discrimination may be diminished, but pressure and pinprick applied to the burned skin can be felt. Whereas superficial partial-thickness burns usually re-epithelialize 7-10 days after injury; so the risk of hypertrophic scarring is very small. For deep partial-thickness burns, tissue may undergo spontaneous epithelialization from the few viable epithelial appendages at this deepest layer of dermis and heal within 3-6 weeks. Because these burns have less capacity for re-epithelializing, a greater potential for hypertrophic scar formation exists. In deep partial-thickness burns, treatment with topical antimicrobial dressings is necessary to prevent infection as the burn wound heals. Contraction across joints, with resulting limitation in range of motion, is a common sequela. Splash scalds often cause second-degree burns.
2. B. The extent of burn size in this patient is 36% total body surface area. A thorough and accurate estimation of burn size is essential to guide therapy and to determine when to transfer a patient to a burn center. The extent of burns is expressed as the total percentage of body surface area. Superficial burns are not included in the burn assessment. For adult assessment, the most expeditious method to estimate total percentage of body surface area is the Rule of Nines. This method only takes into account partial-thickness and full-thickness burns. Each leg represents 18% total percentage of body surface area; each arm represents 9% total percentage of body surface area; the anterior and posterior trunk each represent 18% total percentage of body surface area; and the head represents 9% total percentage of body surface area. This patient has partial-thickness and full-thickness burns covering her entire right arm, her anterior right leg and anterior trunk, which calculates to 36%. The superficial burn on her left arm is not included in the calculation. According to the Rule of Nines, the percentage in this patient can be calculated as follows: entire right arm = 9%; anterior right leg = 9%; anterior trunk 18%. 9+9+18= 36%.
2. Kashefi NS, Nathan JI, Dissanaike S. Does a Nebulized Heparin/N-acetylcysteine Protocol Improve Outcomes in Adult Smoke Inhalation? Plast Reconstr Surg Glob Open. 2014;2:(6)e165. [pubmed]
3. Elsharnouby NM, Eid HE, Abou Elezz NF, Aboelatta YA. Heparin/N-acetylcysteine: an adjuvant in the management of burn inhalation injury: a study of different doses. J Crit Care. 2014;29:(1)182.e1-4. [pubmed]
In January 2015, ACEP recommended against the use of long backboards by EMS, “Backboards should not be used as a therapeutic intervention or as a precautionary measure either inside or outside the hospital or for inter-facility transfers.”
The benefits of devices to aid in spinal immobilization such as cervical collars and long backboards are controversial. Guidelines and protocols are continuing to recommend judicious use of these devices. Examples include:
Clearing collars in obtunded blunt trauma patients with negative high quality CT [EAST]
Selective application of cervical collars [ILCOR]
No backboards and selective pre-hospital immobilizaiton [ACEP]
The Bread and Butter
We differentiate between spinal shock and neurogenic shock, cover the incomplete cord syndromes (anterior cord, central cord, Brown-Sequard Syndrome), and fly through some of the cover using Tintinalli (7e) Chapter 255; Rosen’s (8e) Chapter 43, 106 But, don’t just take our word for it. Go enrich your fundamental understanding yourself.
Spinal shock – Reduced reflexes following think of this as a stunning of the spinal cord.
Neurogenic shock – This is loss of sympathetic innervation from injury to the cervical or thoracic spine, typically from a cervical or upper thoracic spinal cord injury, resulting in bradycardia and hypotension.
Warm, peripherally vasodilated , and hypotensive from loss of sympathetic arterial tone with a relative bradycardia from unopposed parasympathetic (vagal) tone
Typically presents within 30 minutes, can last 6 weeks
Diagnose only after excluding other sources of shock
Treatment: crystalloid, vasopressors
Incomplete Cord Syndromes
Better prognosis than complete cord syndromes. Means there is some sensory or motor preserved distal to lesion (i.e. rectal tone or perineal sensation)
Anterior Cord Syndrome
Complete loss of motor, pain, and temperature below but retain posterior columns (position and vibration)
Flexion injury or decreased perfusion (aortic surgery or injury)
Paralysis and hypalgesia below the level of injury with preservation of posterior column (position and vibration)
Central Cord Syndrome
Sensory and motor deficit, often associated with hyperextension injuries (think whiplash)
Question 1. A patient arrives to the ED 15 minutes after being involved in a MVC. He is conscious, and there is no obvious trauma. He is immobilized on a long spine board with a cervical collar in place. His BP is 60/40 mm Hg and HR is 60 bpm. His skin is warm.
1. A. Loss of deep tendon reflexes is expected. Neurogenic shock occurs after an injury to the spinal cord. Sympathetic outflow is disrupted resulting in unopposed vagal tone. The major clinical signs are hypotension and bradycardia. Patients are generally hypotensive with warm, dry skin because the loss of sympathetic tone impairs the ability to redirect blood flow from the periphery to the core circulation. The most commonly affected area is the cervical region, followed by the thoracolumbar junction, the thoracic region, and the lumbar region. The anatomic level of the injury to the spinal cord impacts the likelihood and severity of neurogenic shock. Injuries above the T1 level have the capability of disrupting the spinal cord tracts that control the entire sympathetic system leading to the loss of deep tendon reflexes.Neurogenic shock must be differentiated from “spinal” shock, which refers to neuropraxia (B) associated with incomplete spinal cord injuries. This state is transient (C) and resolves in 1 to 3 weeks. Alpha-1 vasopressors (e.g., phenylephrine), in addition to dopamine, norepinephrine, and epinephrine (D), should be used to maintain blood pressure and ensure organ perfusion.
2. C. In the anterior spinal cord syndrome, just the posterior columns are preserved and so patients lose all pain and temperature sensation as well as motor function. Most cases of anterior cord syndrome follow aortic surgery, but it has also been reported in the setting of hypotension, infection, vasospasm, or anterior spinal artery ischemia or infarct. In trauma, typically hyperflexion of the cervical spine causes the injury to the spinal cord.
Loss of all motor and sensory function (B) occurs with a complete transection of the spinal cord. Most commonly this occurs after a significant trauma. Isolated motor function loss (A) is not a classic syndrome and would result from a small area of injury on the cord just involving the corticospinal tract. Upper greater than lower motor weakness occurs (D) with a central cord syndrome. Sensory involvement is variable although burning dysesthesias in the upper extremities may occur. Most commonly the syndrome occurs after a fall or motor vehicle accident.
Kappa – a coefficient indicating the degree of inter-rater reliability. How reliability are people getting the same result for a certain test or evaluation?
For example, you would want two people looking at the same chest x-ray to agree on the presence or absence of an infiltrate. Sometimes, chance comes into play and kappa tries to account for this. Similarly, clinical decision aids are often comprised of various historical and physical features. It would be nice if different clinicians evaluating the same patient would turn up the same results (thereby yielding the decision aid consistent and reliable).
The value of kappa ranges from -1 (perfect disagreement that is not due to chance) to +1 (perfect agreement that IS due to chance). A value of 0 means than any agreement is entirely due to chance [1-2].
People debate over what a “good” kappa is. Some say 0.6, some say 0.5 [1-2]. In the PECARN decision aid, for example, the authors only included variables with a kappa of 0.5 [3-4].
Prevalence – if prevalence is high, chance agreement is also high. Kappa takes into account the prevalence index; however, raters may also be predisposed to not diagnose a rare condition, so that the prevalence index provides only an indirect indication of true prevalence, altered by rater behavior .
The raters – agreement may vary based on rater skill, experience, or education. For example, when PECARN variables were looked at between nurses and physicians, the overall kappa for “low risk” by PECARN was 0.32, below the acceptable threshold as this number suggests much of the agreement may be due to chance .
Kappa is based on the assumption that ratings are independent (ie a rater does not know the category assigned by a prior rater).
3.Kuppermann N, Holmes JF, Dayan PS, et al. Identification of children at very low risk of clinically-important brain injuries after head trauma: a prospective cohort study. Lancet. 2009;374:(9696)1160-70. [pubmed]
The Take Home: Most abscesses do not need antibiotics after incision and drainage. If the patient has systemic signs (fever, tachycardia), co-morbidities, or a concurrent cellulitis, they may need antibiotics. Sulfamethoxazole-trimethoprim (SMX-TMP / Bactrim) is one of the most commonly used agents in this case, as it covers MRSA.
Dosing: Two double strength (DS) tablets twice daily is a commonly prescribed regimen; yet,1 DS tablet twice daily is sufficient in most cases with exceptions for patients >100 kg, immunocompromised, or in trauma . ; however, this increases the likelihood of adverse events (nausea, hyperkalemia) without notable substantial positive return.
The Bread and Butter
We cover cellulitis and abscesses, necrotizing infections, and Erythema Multiforme/Stevens-Johnson Syndrome/Toxic Epidermal necrolysis using Tintinalli (7e) Chapter; Rosen’s (8e) Chapter 137 as well as the IDSA guidelines. But, don’t just take our word for it. Go enrich your fundamental understanding yourself.
Non-purulent – cover for strep (penicillin, cephalexin/cefazolin). Even in areas with high incidences of community MRSA, the recommendations for non-purulent skin infections is strep coverage. Five days of treatment is probably enough, and IDSA and Rosenalli approved (see this post)
Purulent – Incise & Drain (I&D). Cover for MRSA in patients that failed initial I&D or those with systemic signs.
Presentation – pain out of proportion to exam findings, abnormal tachycardia (particularly out of proportion to degree of fever). Crepitus is not reliable (present in 13-30% of patients).
Diagnosis – clinical. X-rays, CT, and MRI have all been used but both x-rays and CT lack sensitivity and it’s probably not a good idea to send a sick patient to MRI. The gold standard diagnosis is operative findings.
The LRINEC score was derived to aid in diagnosis using lab values (sodium, creatinine, white blood cell count, hemoglobin, glucose, CRP) but has not been sufficiently predictive in validation attempts .
Type I – polymicrobial. Common in diabetics, immunocompromised.
Type II – monomicrobial (often Group A strep or clostridia).
Type III? – vibrio, but apparently this is controversial.
Intravenous fluid and general resuscitation, surgical consult, and antibiotics.
Erythema Multiforme/Stevens-Johnson/Toxic Epidermal Necrolysis (for more, see this Hippo EM podcast)
Courtesy of Rosh Review
Medications most associated with SJS/TEN: Antibiotics (sulfa), Anti-epileptics, Nonsteroidals
Treatment of SJS/TEN: Fluid resuscitation, Burn Center/ICU care, and IVIG
Question 1. A 22-year-old woman presents to the emergency department with a painful rash. She has had several days of malaise, arthralgias, and low-grade fever, and today developed diffuse painful erythema across her body which is beginning to blister. She takes no medications, but reports completing a course of trimethroprim-sulfamethoxazole one week ago for a urinary tract infection. Examination reveals diffuse tender erythema over her trunk and extremities with multiple ill-defined large bullae, some of which have ruptured, leaving large areas of denuded skin behind. Oral ulcerations are also noted.
Question 2. A 54-year-old man with diabetes presents with severe leg pain. The pain has worsened over the last two days with increased swelling of the calf. He has no chest pain or shortness of breath. Vital signs are: T 101.8°F, BP 98/62, HR 118, RR 18. Physical examination is notable for erythema of the calf, mild tenderness, and crepitus. You initiate IV fluids and broad-spectrum antibiotics.
1. This patient has toxic epidermal necrolysis (TEN). TEN is an acute inflammatory process characterized by tender erythema, painful bullae formation, and subsequent exfoliation. It often begins with prodromal symptoms such as fever, malaise, and myalgias. TEN is considered a dermatologic emergency and patients may appear toxic on presentation. Medications (within the first few months of administration) are the most common cause, with sulfa and penicillin antibiotics, anticonvulsants, and oxicam non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs commonly implicated. Management of TEN involves admission to a burn unit, fluid resuscitation, and prevention of secondary infection. Steroids are not an indicated treatment. Staphylococcal scalded skin syndrome (C) occurs primarily in infants and young children. Infection with exotoxin-producing Staphyloccus aureus leads to diffuse erythroderma and subsequent exfoliation. Mucous membranes are not usually involved. Treatment is fluid resuscitation and antibiotics. Infection with HSV-1 and HSV-2 results in localized skin infection, though in patients with underlying immunosuppression or malignancy it may lead to disseminated herpes simplex virus infection (A), characterized by diffuse vesicles and ulcerations and multisystem involvement. Photosensitive drug reactions (B) are characterized by confluent erythema, macules, papules, or sometimes vesicles in sun-exposed areas such as the face, neck, and arms, occurring within 1-3 weeks of the patient taking an offending agent. Medications commonly associated with photosensitivity include sulfonamides, thiazides, furosemide, and fluoroquinolones
2. Necrotizing fasciitis is an infection of the subcutaneous tissue that spreads rapidly across the fascial planes and is often fatal even with aggressive treatment. Risk factors for necrotizing infections include diabetes, vascular insufficiency, and immunosuppression. Classically patients have pain out of proportion to examination. Later findings include diffuse swelling, erythema, induration and crepitus. The gold standard for diagnosis is direct visualization in the operating room by a surgeon. Surgeons may elect to perform a bedside biopsy prior to full exploration. Management includes aggressive IV hydration, broad-spectrum antibiotics, and surgical debridement. CT scan with intravenous contrast of the lower extremity (A) may demonstrate findings suggestive of a necrotizing infection including subcutaneous gas, stranding along the fascial planes or fluid collection. However, the negative predictive value of CT scan has not been quantified and is not yet considered the gold standard. Doppler ultrasound of the lower extremity (B) may be helpful in identifying venous thrombosis as a cause of edema and fullness of the leg. Additionally, sonography may visualize an area of deep fluid collection and may demonstrate artifact from a significant amount of subcutaneous air if present. Measurement of serum lactate and CPK (C) is helpful when positive but not sensitive enough to rule out the diagnosis of necrotizing fasciitis. The Laboratory Risk Indicator for Necrotizing Fasciitis (LRINEC) incorporates other laboratory markers (CRP, WBC, Hemoglobin, Sodium, Creatinine, Glucose) into a decision-rule however lacks sufficient sensitivity in larger studies.
10.Liao CI, Lee YK, Su YC et al. Validation of the laboratory risk indicator for necrotizing fasciitis (LRINEC) score for early diagnosis of necrotizing fasciitis. Tzu Chi Medical Journal (2012) 24(2):73-76
We cover the Taming the SRU podcast, “Ketamine Cagematch” (iTunes), a debate between Dr. Minh Le Cong and Dr. Chris Zammit.
Dogma persists that ketamine may increase intracranial pressure, which would be bad in traumatic brain injury (TBI) given the fixed space in the cranial vault. These are largely from Yet, these patients often need sedation, for agitation or intubation, and drops in blood pressure are also deleterious (see EMCrit on neuroprotective intubation).
PRO (Le Cong): The literature doesn’t show clinically significant deleterious outcomes from ketamine use in the head injured patient. Review in Annals on ketamine and ICP. Deleterious effects of apnea may result from other sedative agents.
CON (Zammit): Studies showing that ketamine does not increase ICP confounded by the presence of other sedatives on board. As a result, there may still be a risk to using ketamine in these patients.
The Bread and Butter
We cover key points on concussion and mild TBI from Tintinalli 254 but to be honest, Rosenalli is lacking on this topic so we’ve turned to the ACEP clinical policy, AAN guidelines, Ontario Pediatric Guidelines, and the AAP guidelines on the topic. But, don’t just take our word for it. Go enrich your fundamental understanding yourself.
Mild TBI and concussion are often referred to interchangeably and the definition varies [1-3]. Unfortunately, concussion is often thought of only in the sports population and not all-comers to the Emergency Department (ED) so patients may not receive proper .
Definition: Essentially, any alteration in mental status following head injury. Per the CDC: Head injury from blunt trauma or acceleration/deceleration with GCS 14-15 PLUS
observed or self-reported transient confusion, disorientation, or impaired consciousness
Amnesia around the time of injury
Signs of other neurologic or neuropsychological dysfunction
Any loss of consciousness (LOC) less than 30 minutes (!) 
For more on how reliable LOC is in these patients, see this post.
Causes: Falls and motor vehicle collisions are the most common causes in adults, whereas sports are the more common in kids.
The effects on the brain are largely a result of “secondary injury,” consistent of alterations in ion-channel, metabolic pathways, and electrochemical imbalances. These are more functional than structural.
Symptoms: There’s a good bit of overlap with migraine, more significant head trauma, and symptoms that may be confused for behavioral issues in younger populations.
Testing: Not all head injuries require imaging. Certainly, patients with focal neurologic findings warrant imaging; yet, in other cases, validated decision aids exist to help determine which patients may or may not need imaging. In adults, we like the Canadian CT Head tool , although the ACEP clinical policy uses the New Orleans Criteria. For a solid review of the two, check out this SGEM episode. In children, consider the use of the PECARN decision aid. Otherwise, a good neurologic exam and observation should suffice.
Something to consider – patients often believe that a “normal” CT scan of the head means that they don’t have a concussion. As a result, they may not take concussion precautions seriously. In this case, imaging may provide false reassurance.
There’s increased attention on biomarkers like GFAP, total tau, and S-100B but these are not ready for prime time and are not incredibly specific . Further, standardized assessment tools such as SCAT3 and ACE may be useful, but are used predominantly on-site for sports related incidents.
Education – this is one of the biggest areas in which ED providers may make a difference. Give patients or family members precautions for concussion, even if the injury or mechanism seems relatively mild. Studies show that a majority of pediatric patients do not follow up as instructed after a concussion . Perhaps communication of the the potential gravity of concussion and long-term implications may improve follow up.
Rest – This the is the mainstay of initial treatment for most mild TBI [1-3, 5]. It’s unclear how strict this rest needs to be, but a recent study in the pediatric literature found no benefit to strict rest versus standard instructions (1-2 days rest + graduated return) .
Graduated return to activity – after a period of rest, it’s recommended to slowly resume activities, spending at least 24 hours at each level of increased activity. If an individual gets symptomatic, they should return to the level of activity at which they were asymptomatic (see the Zurich protocol).
Return to play – clearing people from the ED is NOT a good idea. For those on the sidelines, a player should be removed from activity for the day after a suspected concussion.
Why do we care in the ED?
Quality of Life – Concussive symptoms can be quite disabling. Giving patients a name for their symptoms, resources, and education may help them understand the process of recovery and available resources.
Second Impact Syndrome – A second head injury in a patient symptomatic from a concussion may experience diffuse cerebral edema, possibly from loss of cerebral autoregulation.* 
Post Concussion Syndrome (PCS) – a subset of the concussion population will have persistence of symptoms which, if they persist > 1 week to 3 months after the injury, is deemed PCS. * This is thought to be more prevalent in individuals with a history of depression, anxiety, or migraines and in those with more severe ED presentations .
Bouncebacks – Patients may present to the ED with symptoms of concussion but may not give a history of significant trauma. Remember that concussion may occur after a seemingly minor bump to the head and elderly may need extra support with activities of daily living or may bounce back with a more life threatening injury.
Lack of follow up. While some may follow up with concussion specialists, the majority of our patient population lacks the ability for meaningful or specialist follow up. We can’t assume that someone else is going to guide our patients through concussion recovery or that when we write “follow up with _____” that it will happen. Our care may be it, make it good.
*The literature on these is sparse and complicated by variable definitions, information, and standardized reporting.
Question 1. A 33-year-old man with no past medical history presents with a headache 3 days after a closed head injury. The patient states that he stood up from kneeling and hit the top of his head on a wood cabinet. There was no loss of consciousness or seizure activity. In addition to the headache, he complains of difficulty concentrating at work and dizziness. His physical examination is unremarkable.
Question 2. A 42-year-old man is brought to the ED after he tripped and fell while he and his wife were on a walk. His wife notes that she saw him hit his head on the pavement and that he did not respond to her for 45 seconds. When he started to respond, she says that he was very confused. In the ED, his vital signs are BP 135/75, HR 88, RR 14, and oxygen saturation 98% on room air. On exam, you note some minor lacerations on the patient’s upper extremities, face, and scalp and his GCS is 15. As the wife recounts what happened, the patient does not recall any of the events and continuously asks to repeat what happened to him. A CT scan of the brain is normal. The patient is diagnosed with a concussion and is ready to be discharged from the ED.
1. Tavender EJ, Bosch M, Green S, et al. Quality and consistency of guidelines for the management of mild traumatic brain injury in the emergency department. Acad Emerg Med. 2011;18:(8)880-9. [pubmed]
3. Jagoda AS, Bazarian JJ, Bruns JJ, et al. Clinical policy: neuroimaging and decisionmaking in adult mild traumatic brain injury in the acute setting. Ann Emerg Med. 2008;52:(6)714-48. [pubmed]
4.Hwang V, Trickey AW, Lormel C, et al. Are pediatric concussion patients compliant with discharge instructions? J Trauma Acute Care Surg. 2014;77(1):117–22; discussion 122.
5. Brown NJ, Mannix RC, O’Brien MJ, Gostine D, Collins MW, Meehan WP. Effect of cognitive activity level on duration of post-concussion symptoms. Pediatrics. 2014;133(2):e299–304.
6.Thomas DG, Apps JN, Hoffmann RG, McCrea M, Hammeke T. Benefits of strict rest after acute concussion: a randomized controlled trial. Pediatrics. 2015;135:(2)213-23. [pubmed]
1. D. The patient presents with minor head trauma and complaints consistent with a concussion and should have neurology follow up arranged. A concussion is a minor TBI that is often seen in MVCs and collision sports (football, hockey). It is typically caused by a rotational injury or an acceleration-deceleration injury. Patients will present with a number of non-specific symptoms including headaches, dizziness, confusion, amnesia, difficulty concentrating, and blurry vision but do not have focal neurologic findings. Despite the absence of severe intracranial injury, patients can have chronic and debilitating symptoms from concussions. Neurology referral is recommended, as patients should have functional testing and tracking of their symptoms for resolution. It is vital to counsel patients to avoid contact sports or activities that increased the risk of recurrent injury as these patients are at risk for more severe injury with second impact.In the absence of focal neurologic findings, absence of antiplatelet or anticoagulant use and minor trauma, imaging is not needed (A, B, C).
2. Cerebral concussions are clinically characterized by headaches, confusion, dizziness, and amnesia for the event. Concussions are characterized by a transient loss of consciousness that occurs immediately following blunt, nonprenetrating head trauma, caused by impairment of the reticular activating system. Concussions present without focal neurologic deficits, and CT and MRI show no acute abnormalities. Although not commonly performed for concussions, functional imaging, such a PET scan, may show changes in blood flow and glucose uptake. It is critical to inform the patient and his or her family of the second impact syndrome (SIS), which occurs when a patient suffers a second concussion after being symptom-free from the first. Although SIS is more common in sports based injuries, especially among teenagers, the risk of serious sequelae following a second concussion is immense. Due to neurochemical and autoregulatory changes that may still be present, a second concussion soon after a first generally produces a rapid neurologic decline that proves fatal. Patients should be told to avoid activities that could cause falls or trauma for at least 1 week after the patient is completely asymptomatic from the first concussion. Most patients with a concussion can be discharged from the emergency department and advised to follow-up with a primary care physician within 1 week (B). Although some patients have only transient symptoms from a concussion, others may experience persistent symptoms termed postconcussive syndrome (PCS). PCS symptoms most often include headache as well as memory, sensory, sleep, and concentration disturbances. It is important to consider PCS in all patients with a concussion, but a primary care physician is generally able to care for these patients. It is unnecessary to obtain an MRI (C). Although patients should avoid trauma and falls for at least 1 week after being completely asymptomatic after the first concussion, a change insleeping position (D) is unnecessary.