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Initial Severity of Concussion Symptoms Tied to Longer Recovery Time

The more severe a student-athlete's initial concussion symptoms are, the longer it's likely to take for him or her to fully recover, according to a study recently published in The Journal of Pediatrics.

The study, published April 25, sought to identify which risk factors would predispose an athlete to a longer recovery period from a concussion.

Given that most youth-athletes recover from a concussion within a month's time, the researchers used the four-week period as their dividing line between the study's 182 participants, who ranged in age from 7 to 26. All but 10 of the participants sustained their concussion while playing organized sports.

Those who fully recovered from their concussion within 28 days were separated into one group, and those who took longer than 28 days to become symptom-free into another group. Forty-eight students fell into the latter group. Of the sports whose athletes' symptoms persisted for more than 28 days, ice hockey (14) actually ranked ahead of football (11). Soccer (7), basketball (4), and lacrosse (4) rounded out the top five.

The researchers found that the only significant predictor of the length of recovery time from a concussion was the athlete's initial score on the Post-Concussion Symptom Scale. The higher an athlete scored on the PCSS, the greater the odds that he or she would face a longer recovery time.

"Parents, physicians, and caregivers of athletes who suffer from a high-degree of symptoms after a sports-related concussion should start preparing for the possibility of a prolonged recovery," said Dr. William P. Meehan III, one of the study's authors, in a statement.

Meehan and his colleagues did not find a correlation between recovery time and age or recovery time and amnesia. Previous studies have suggested a link to one or both. Their findings lead them to recommend that any efforts to develop clinical tools to assess the expected recovery time from a concussion should focus on an athlete's initial symptom severity, not age or amnesia.

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