What Is Post-Concussion Syndrome?

    Post-concussion syndrome, or post-concussive syndrome (PCS), refers to the lingering symptoms following a concussion or a mild traumatic brain injury (TBI). It is typically diagnosed when a person who has recently suffered a head injury continues to feel at least three of the main symptoms following a concussion. These include dizziness, fatigue, and headaches.

    Post-concussion syndrome can begin to occur within days of the head injury. It can sometimes take weeks for the symptoms to appear.

    What Causes Post-Concussion Syndrome?

    Concussions typically occur after a person falls, gets into an auto accident, is the victim of a violent assault, or suffers a blow to the head during impact sports—especially boxing and football.

    It is not known why certain patients develop PCS and others do not.

    The severity of the concussion or TBI plays no role in the likelihood of developing PCS.

    Who Is at Risk for Post-Concussion Syndrome?

    Anyone who has recently suffered a concussion is at risk for post-concussion syndrome. A person is more likely to develop PCS if they are over the age of 40. Women are also more likely to have PCS, although this might be because women are more likely to seek medical care.

    As several of the symptoms mirror those associated with depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), it is believed that people with pre-existing psychiatric conditions are more likely to develop PCS after a concussion.

    What Are the Symptoms of Post-Concussion Syndrome?

    After a TBI, a doctor may diagnose post-concussion syndrome by the presence of at least three of the following symptoms:

    • headache
    • dizziness
    • vertigo
    • fatigue
    • memory problems
    • trouble concentrating
    • sleeping problems
    • insomnia
    • restlessness
    • irritability
    • apathy
    • depression
    • anxiety
    • personality changes
    • sensitivity to noise and light

    There is no single way to diagnose PCS, as the symptoms vary for each patient. A doctor may request a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) or computed tomography (CT) scan to make sure there are no significant brain abnormalities.

    Although rest is often recommended after a concussion, it can perpetuate the psychological symptoms of PCS.

    How Is Post-Concussion Syndrome Treated?

    No single treatment exists for post-concussion syndrome. Instead, a doctor will treat the symptoms specific to the patient with PCS. When a patient experiences anxiety and depression, he or she may be referred to a psychiatrist for psychotherapy treatment. Cognitive therapy might also be suggested if memory issues are present.

    Medications

    Doctors can also prescribe the drug Amitriptyline to combat irritability, dizziness, and depressive symptoms. Antidepressants and/or anti-anxiety medications can be prescribed to treat depression, anxiety, and headaches.

    What Is the Outlook After Post-Concussion Syndrome?

    While most patients with post-concussion syndrome fully recover, it is difficult to predict when this might occur. PCS usually goes away within three months, but there have been cases that have lasted a year or longer.

    Preventing Post-Concussion Syndrome

    The causes of post-concussion syndrome following a concussion are still unclear. The only way to prevent PCS is by preventing the head injury itself.

    Wearing your seatbelt while in a car, ensure that children are in the proper car seats, and always wear a helmet when riding a bike or playing sports can all help prevent head injuries.