UMass Chan Medical School Faculty Publications


Association of Pharmacological Interventions With Symptom Burden Reduction in Patients With Mild Traumatic Brain Injury: A Systematic Review

UMMS Affiliation

School of Medicine; Lamar Soutter Library

Publication Date


Document Type



Nervous System Diseases | Neurology


Importance: Mild traumatic brain injury (TBI) is experienced by 55.9 million people globally each year. The symptoms of mild TBI are diverse and sometimes long-lasting, requiring frequent use of pharmacological interventions to mitigate them. A thorough understanding of the data supporting pharmacological interventions is important for decision-making among clinicians treating this common injury.

Objective: To systematically review studies of pharmacological interventions and their associations with symptom burden reduction among patients with mild TBI and to use an evidence-based model to identify potential directions for future research that may aid in clinical decision-making.

Evidence Review: A systematic review was performed in PubMed, Scopus, and Web of Science. Search strings modified for the advanced search interfaces of each search engine were developed in consultation with a librarian and included combinations of search terms, such as brain concussion, post-concussion syndrome, mild traumatic brain injury, and pharmacological treatment. Articles published between January 1, 2000, and July 1, 2020, were analyzed. Studies were included if (1) they were clinical studies with discrete analyses of participants with mild TBI or complicated mild TBI, (2) they were assessments of a pharmacological intervention, (3) they included human participants, and (4) they were published in a peer-reviewed journal in the English language. Studies were excluded if the severity of TBI among participants could not be ascertained (ie, inadequate definition of mild TBI) and the inclusion criteria for the study required intracranial hemorrhage. A total of 23 studies examining 20 pharmacological interventions met the inclusion criteria. Risk of bias was assessed using the Cochrane Risk of Bias for Randomized Trials (for randomized clinical trials) and the Cochrane Risk of Bias in Non-Randomized Studies of Interventions (for all other studies). Data were analyzed from June to September 2020.

Findings: A total of 1495 articles were identified; of those, 131 articles were excluded as duplicates. Titles and abstracts were screened for inclusion and exclusion criteria among the remaining 1364 articles, and 134 of those articles received a full-text review. After exclusions, 23 studies (11 randomized clinical trials, 7 prospective observational studies, 3 retrospective observational studies, and 2 case studies) examining 20 pharmacological interventions were identified for inclusion in the systematic review. Studies included 22 distinct participant populations comprising 8277 participants with mild TBI and 45 participants without TBI. Among 23 total studies, 8 studies specifically addressed the pediatric population, 9 studies had a low risk of bias, and 16 studies reported symptom burden reduction. Of the 20 pharmacological interventions examined in the studies, methylphenidate, sertraline hydrochloride, ondansetron, amitriptyline, and melatonin were the only medications included in multiple studies.

Conclusions and Relevance: This systematic review found a limited number of high-quality, clinically meaningful studies, particularly among children and individuals in the acute stage of injury; therefore, performing an evidence-based analysis that would inform clinical decision-making was not possible. Future studies are needed to focus on standardizing measures and increasing sample sizes (including large multicenter clinical trials) to generate a body of research that may provide additional options for the treatment of patients with mild TBI.


traumatic brain injury, interventions, systematic reviews

DOI of Published Version



Feinberg C, Carr C, Zemek R, Yeates KO, Master C, Schneider K, Bell MJ, Wisniewski S, Mannix R. Association of Pharmacological Interventions With Symptom Burden Reduction in Patients With Mild Traumatic Brain Injury: A Systematic Review. JAMA Neurol. 2021 May 1;78(5):596-608. doi: 10.1001/jamaneurol.2020.5079. PMID: 33464290. Link to article on publisher's site

Related Resources

Link to Article in PubMed

Journal/Book/Conference Title

JAMA neurology

PubMed ID