To determine if systematic variation of diagnostic terminology (ie, concussion, minor head injury [MHI], mild traumatic brain injury [mTBI]) following a standardized injury description produced different expected symptoms and illness perceptions. We hypothesized that worse outcomes would be expected of mTBI, compared with other diagnoses, and that MHI would be perceived as worse than concussion.
108 volunteers were randomly allocated to conditions in which they read a vignette describing a motor vehicle accident–related mTBI followed by a diagnosis of mTBI (n = 27), MHI (n = 24), concussion (n = 31), or, no diagnosis (n = 26). All groups rated (a) event “undesirability,” (b) illness perception, and (c) expected postconcussion syndrome (PCS) and posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms 6 months after injury.
There was a statistically significant group effect on undesirability (mTBI > concussion and MHI), PTSD symptomatology (mTBI and no diagnosis > concussion), and negative illness perception (mTBI and no diagnosis > concussion).
In general, diagnostic terminology did not affect anticipated PCS symptoms 6 months after injury, but other outcomes were affected. Given that these diagnostic terms are used interchangeably, this study suggests that changing terminology can influence known contributors to poor mTBI outcome.