After Concussion, Emotional Symptoms May Signal Other Issues

Emotional difficulties after concussion linked to greater likelihood of light and noise sensitivity for teens

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) A concussion can bring about a wide variety of symptoms. These symptoms may affect any combination of physical, emotional, basic mental functioning. It seems that some types of concussion symptoms may signal risk for others.

A recent study found that teenagers who exhibited emotional symptoms, such as anxiety or irritability, after a sports concussion were more likely than those without emotional symptoms to have co-occurring physical symptoms. Such physical symptoms may include being extra sensitivity to light and noise. 

The researchers believe that being able to identify factors associated with emotional symptoms of concussions will help doctors decide the best treatment plan.

"Tell your pediatrician if you think your teenager had a concussion."

This study was conducted by Lisa M. Koehl, MS, and Dong Y. Han, PsyD, from the University of Kentucky in Lexington.

The study included 37 teenagers between the ages of 12 and 18 years old who had experienced a concussion and had been dealing with continuous symptoms for an average of 37 days.

Twenty-two of the teenagers reported that they had one or more of the following emotional symptoms:

  • Irritability/aggression
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Apathy
  • Frequent mood changes

Fifteen of the teenagers had not experienced emotional symptoms and were used as the control (comparison) group.

There were no significant differences in the severity of the concussions within each group.

The findings showed that five (23 percent) of the 22 teenagers with emotional symptoms were extra sensitive to light, and three (14 percent) were extra sensitive to noise. In comparison, only two (13 percent) of the 15 teenagers in the control group were extra sensitive to light, and none were extra sensitive to noise.

The researchers found that the number of concussions a teenager experienced did not affect the likelihood of having emotional symptoms. This finding held regardless of whether or not the teens had headaches or felt nauseated often or had a family history of psychiatric conditions.

The teenagers who had anxiety were 55 percent more likely to report that they experienced difficulties with attention and focus compared to the teenagers who did not have anxiety.

The findings also revealed that the teenagers with irritability and/or aggression were 35 percent more likely to report attention and focus problems compared to the teenagers who did not have those symptoms.

"Identifying factors such as these that may exacerbate issues teens experience after concussion may help in planning for the appropriate treatment and in making decisions about when to return to play and what accommodations are needed at school for these athletes," the researchers concluded.

These researchers stressed the need for more research on teenagers and concussions with larger study populations.

This study was presented on July 10 at The 2014 Sports Concussion Conference.

The American College of Sports Medicine Research Foundation provided funding.

Review Date: 
July 10, 2014
Last Updated:
July 13, 2014