Second-impact syndrome and a small subdural hematoma: an uncommon catastrophic result of repetitive head injury with a characteristic imaging appearance

J Neurotrauma. 2010 Sep;27(9):1557-64. doi: 10.1089/neu.2010.1334.


There have been a handful of previously published cases of athletes who were still symptomatic from a prior head injury, and then suffered a second injury in which a thin, acute subdural hematoma (SDH) with unilateral hemisphere vascular engorgement was demonstrated on CT scan. In those cases, the cause of the brain swelling/dysautoregulation was ascribed to the presence of the acute SDH rather than to the acceleration/deceleration forces that caused the SDH. We believe that the brain swelling is due to "second-impact dysautoregulation," rather than due to the effect of the SDH on the underlying hemisphere. To support our hypothesis, we present 10 additional cases of acute hemispheric swelling in association with small SDHs in athletes who received a second head injury while still symptomatic from a previous head injury. The clinical history and the unique neuroimaging features of this entity on CT are described and illustrated in detail. The CT findings included an engorged cerebral hemisphere with initial preservation of grey-white matter differentiation, and abnormal mass effect and midline shift that appeared disproportionately greater than the size of the SDH. In addition, the imaging similarities between our patients and those with non-accidental head trauma (shaken-baby syndrome) will be discussed.

Publication types

  • Case Reports

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Aged
  • Athletic Injuries / complications
  • Athletic Injuries / diagnosis*
  • Athletic Injuries / physiopathology
  • Catastrophic Illness
  • Child
  • Craniocerebral Trauma / complications
  • Craniocerebral Trauma / diagnosis*
  • Craniocerebral Trauma / physiopathology
  • Female
  • Hematoma, Subdural / diagnosis*
  • Hematoma, Subdural / etiology
  • Hematoma, Subdural / physiopathology
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Recurrence
  • Syndrome
  • Young Adult