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Repetitive Head Injury Syndrome

Practice Essentials

Primary head injury can be catastrophic, but the effects of repetitive head injuries must also be considered. Second-impact syndrome (SIS), a term coined in 1984, describes the situation in which an individual sustains a second head injury before the symptoms from the first head injury have resolved.

See Pediatric Concussion and Other Traumatic Brain Injuries, a Critical Images slideshow, to help identify the signs and symptoms of TBI, determine the type and severity of injury, and initiate appropriate treatment.

Also, see the Football Injuries: Slideshow to help diagnose and treat injuries from a football game can result in minor to severe complications.

The second injury may occur from days to weeks following the first. Loss of consciousness is not a requirement of this condition, the impact may seem relatively mild, and the athlete may appear only dazed initially. However, this second impact causes cerebral edema and herniation, leading to collapse and death within minutes. Only 17 cases of confirmed SIS have been reported in the medical literature. Thus, the true risk and pathophysiology of SIS has not been clearly established.

Importantly, even if the effects of the initial brain injury have already resolved (6-18 mo post injury), the effect of multiple concussions over time remains significant and can result in long-term neurologic and functional deficits. These multiple brain insults can still be termed repetitive head injury syndrome, but they do not fit the classification of SIS. True SIS would most likely have a devastating outcome.

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