Paediatric post-concussive symptoms: symptom clusters and clinical phenotypes

Br J Sports Med. 2022 Jul;56(14):785-791. doi: 10.1136/bjsports-2021-105193. Epub 2022 Mar 10.


Objective: To assess the co-occurrence and clustering of post-concussive symptoms in children, and to identify distinct patient phenotypes based on symptom type and severity.

Methods: We performed a secondary analysis of the prospective, multicentre Predicting and Preventing Post-concussive Problems in Pediatrics (5P) cohort study, evaluating children 5-17 years of age presenting within 48 hours of an acute concussion. Our primary outcome was the simultaneous occurrence of two or more persistent post-concussive symptoms on the Post-Concussion Symptom Inventory at 28 days post-injury. Analyses of symptom and patient clusters were performed using hierarchical cluster analyses of symptom severity ratings.

Results: 3063 patients from the parent 5P study were included. Median age was 12.1 years (IQR: 9.2-14.6 years), and 1857 (60.6%) were male. Fatigue was the most common persistent symptom (21.7%), with headache the most commonly reported co-occurring symptom among patients with fatigue (55%; 363/662). Headache was common in children reporting any of the 12 other symptoms (range: 54%-72%). Physical symptoms occurred in two distinct clusters: vestibular-ocular and headache. Emotional and cognitive symptoms occurred together more frequently and with higher severity than physical symptoms. Fatigue was more strongly associated with cognitive and emotional symptoms than physical symptoms. We identified five patient groups (resolved/minimal, mild, moderate, severe and profound) based on symptom type and severity.

Conclusion: Post-concussive symptoms in children occur in distinct clusters, facilitating the identification of distinct patient phenotypes based on symptom type and severity. Care of children post-concussion must be comprehensive, with systems designed to identify and treat distinct post-concussion phenotypes.

Keywords: brain concussion; fatigue; head.

MeSH terms

  • Brain Concussion* / complications
  • Brain Concussion* / diagnosis
  • Child
  • Cohort Studies
  • Fatigue / complications
  • Female
  • Headache / complications
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Pediatrics*
  • Phenotype
  • Post-Concussion Syndrome* / epidemiology
  • Prospective Studies