What Is Second Impact Syndrome: Signs & Symptoms

A concussion is a severe condition. After your first concussion, you may experience dizziness, headaches, and slower reaction times. These symptoms put you at greater risk of incurring another concussion. There may be complications if you encounter another blow to the head following your first incident. The consequences are also known as second impact syndrome.

Second impact syndrome (SIS) is when an individual experiences a second head injury before fully recovering from a prior incident. The brain swells rapidly as a response to the second concussion. Within minutes, an otherwise healthy person can die after suffering the blow. Although rare, SIS is most often fatal. Those who do not die from it are typically left disabled.

The best treatment for second impact syndrome is prevention. After suffering from a concussion, the patient should complete the recovery process without aggravating the condition. Avoid settings that could lead to another blow to the head. The risk of SIS can be minimized and eventually eliminated once the brain has healed fully after a concussion. Professional concussion management is vital to the rehabilitation process.

Let's learn about second impact syndrome and its symptoms.

What Is Second Impact Syndrome?

What Is Second Impact Syndrome?

Second impact syndrome stems from the brain's sudden inability to regulate cerebral spinal fluid pressure. The lack of regulation means the brain continues swelling until it herniates. This severe reaction occurs more easily while you still suffer from a previous concussion. Even a minor blow to the head, chest, or back can cause the brain to move inside the skull, resulting in SIS.

Second impact syndrome is more likely among athletes who sustain concussions. Sometimes, they may return to physical activity before completing the concussion treatment process, thus causing complications. Every year, there are over four million sports-related concussions in North America. Similarly, concussions can occur from workplace accidents or slip and falls. The likelihood of second impact syndrome may arise from these scenarios.

Second Impact Syndrome Symptoms

Second Impact Syndrome Symptoms

Unfortunately, second impact syndrome symptoms can be hard to detect. A person who sustains a blow leading to second impact syndrome may not even lose consciousness. They may only look stunned or confused for a moment. Typically, most people who experience SIS get confused or may collapse within 1 to 2 minutes. From there, their condition worsens rapidly as the brain continues swelling.

There is limited documentation of second impact syndrome cases. It is difficult to say how long someone has before the pressure in the brain builds to the point of herniation. Most examples demonstrate this can happen in as little as a few minutes. The onset is rapid and highly fatal. Some may misidentify the SIS symptoms as a severe brain injury, which doesn't have the same sense of urgency for treatment.

Here are some common second impact syndrome symptoms:

Symptom #1: Fatigue and disorientation

You may feel weakness or numbness in the legs. You may also experience slurred speech.

Symptom #2: Loss of eye movement

The pupils become dilated, or one pupil may be larger than the other.

Symptom #3: Unusual behavioural changes

You may feel drowsy and experience difficulty recognizing people or places.

Symptom #4: Worsening headaches

In extreme cases, second impact syndrome may lead to repeated vomiting, seizures, or respiratory failure.

Symptom #5: Possible loss of consciousness

An individual may be less responsive than usual, potentially falling unconscious.

If you notice second impact syndrome signs and symptoms, visit the nearest emergency room. Do not wait since the severity could mean life or death when it comes to injuries in the brain. Although rare, young athletes undergoing rigorous activities have higher exposure to the risks of second impact syndrome. If there is any likelihood of complications following a concussion, have the individual assessed quickly.

Second Impact Syndrome Treatment

Second Impact Syndrome Treatment

There is a lack of sufficient medical information about second impact syndrome, resulting in limited treatment options. Nonetheless, the hospital has the best-equipped resources to mitigate the symptoms. You should get to an emergency room immediately after experiencing a severe brain injury. Ask for a CT scan to assess your brain for swelling or bleeding.

The hospital may try various methods to stabilize patients with SIS. Some techniques include blood pressure control, fluid restriction, diuresis, or surgery when recommended. The earlier you seek professional second impact syndrome treatment, the better.

Ultimately, the best way to avoid second impact syndrome is by taking the time to heal a concussion comprehensively. Seek cognitive and physical rest under the supervision of a physician. Do not rush your treatment, engage in overly physical activities, or put yourself through risky situations. Remember, you need time to heal from the long-term effects of a concussion. Be patient and cautious until your recovery is complete.

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