Loss of Consciousness: Pathophysiology and Implications in Grading and Safe Return to Play

J Athl Train. 2001 Sep;36(3):249-252.


OBJECTIVE: To provide historical background and current concepts regarding the importance of loss of consciousness (LOC) in the evaluation of concussion and athletes. DATA SOURCES: A MEDLINE search identified scientific and clinical articles on sport concussion management published from 1966 to present. Discussions were held with authors of selected reports. Recent research findings reported at national meetings were reviewed. DATA SYNTHESIS: The relative importance of LOC in the evaluation of concussion was reviewed in light of scientific and clinical evidence in the literature. Comments made by authors of concussion grading scales were considered in the development of expert consensus statements. CONCLUSIONS/RECOMMENDATIONS: The observation of LOC at the time of concussion must be viewed as reflecting a potentially worrisome traumatic brain injury. LOC is followed by more severe acute mental status abnormalities and carries a greater risk of intracranial pathology than concussion without LOC. Prolonged LOC represents a neurologic emergency, which may require neurosurgical intervention. Lingering symptoms of concussion, even without LOC, should be monitored closely and managed according to established guidelines for safe return to play.