A multicenter, longitudinal survey of headaches and concussions among youth athletes in the United States from 2009 to 2019

J Headache Pain - 2023


Ali, M., Asghar, N., Hannah, T., Schupper, A. J., Li, A., Dreher, N., Murtaza-Ali, M., Vasan, V., Nakadar, Z., Alasadi, H., Lin, A., Hrabarchuk, E., Quinones, A., McCarthy, L., Asfaw, Z., Dullea, J., Gometz, A., Lovell, M. and Choudhri, T..



OBJECTIVE/ BACKGROUND: Chronic headaches and sports-related concussions are among the most common neurological morbidities in adolescents and young adults. Given that the two can overlap in presentation, studying the effects of one on another has proven difficult. In this longitudinal study, we sought to assess the relationship between chronic headaches and concussions, analyzing the role of historic concussions on chronic headaches, as well as that of premorbid headaches on future concussion incidence, severity, and recovery. METHODS: This multi-center, longitudinal cohort study followed 7,453 youth athletes who were administered demographic and clinical surveys as well as a total of 25,815 Immediate Post-concussion Assessment and Cognitive Testing (ImPACT) assessments between 2009 and 2019. ImPACT was administered at baseline. Throughout the season concussions were examined by physicians and athletic trainers, followed by re-administration of ImPACT post-injury (PI), and at follow-up (FU), a median of 7 days post-concussion. Concussion incidence was calculated as the total number of concussions per patient years. Concussion severity and recovery were calculated as standardized deviations from baseline to PI and then FU in Symptom Score and the four neurocognitive composite ImPACT scores: Verbal Memory, Visual Memory, Processing Speed, and Reaction Time. Data were collected prospectively in a well-organized electronic format supervised by a national research-oriented organization with rigorous quality assurance. Analysis was preformed retrospectively. RESULTS: Of the eligible athletes, 1,147 reported chronic headaches (CH) at the start of the season and 6,306 reported no such history (NH). Median age of the cohort was 15.4 +/- 1.6 years, and students were followed for an average of 1.3 +/- 0.6 years. A history of concussions (OR 2.31, P < 0.0001) was associated with CH. Specifically, a greater number of past concussions (r(2) = 0.95) as well as concussions characterized by a loss of consciousness (P < 0.0001) were associated with more severe headache burden. The CH cohort had a greater future incidence of concussion than the NH cohort (55.6 vs. 43.0 per 100 patient-years, P < 0.0001). However, multivariate analysis controlling for demographic, clinical, academic, and sports-related variables yielded no such effect (OR 0.99, P = 0.85). On multivariable analysis the CH cohort did have greater deviations from baseline to PI and FU in Symptom Score (PI OR per point 1.05, P = 0.01, FU OR per point 1.11, P = 0.04) and Processing Speed (OR per point 1.08, P = 0.04), suggesting greater concussion severity and impaired symptomatic recovery as compared to the NH cohort. CONCLUSION: A history of concussions was a significant contributor to headache burden among American adolescents and young adults. However, those with chronic headaches were not more likely to be diagnosed with a concussion, despite presenting with more severe concussions that had protracted recovery. Our findings not only suggest the need for conservative management among youth athletes with chronic headaches, they also indicate a potential health care gap in this population, in that those with chronic headaches may be referred for concussion diagnosis and management at lower rates than those with no such comorbidity.

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