What is post-concussion syndrome?

Post-concussion syndrome (PCS), or post-concussive syndrome, refers to the lingering symptoms following a concussion or a mild traumatic brain injury (TBI).

This condition is typically diagnosed when a person who has recently experienced a head injury continues to feel certain symptoms following a concussion. These include:

  • dizziness
  • fatigue
  • headaches

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

A doctor may diagnose PCS after a TBI 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’s no single way to diagnose PCS. The symptoms vary depending on the person. A doctor may request an MRI or CT scan to make sure there are no significant brain abnormalities.

Rest is often recommended after a concussion. However, it can prolong the psychological symptoms of PCS.

Concussions can occur in a variety of scenarios, including:

  • following a fall
  • being involved in car accident
  • being violently assaulted
  • experiencing a blow to the head during impact sports, particularly boxing and football

It isn’t known why some people develop PCS and others don’t.

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

Anyone who has recently experienced a concussion is at risk for PCS. You’re more likely to develop PCS if you’re over the age of 40 years.

Several of the symptoms mirror those associated with:

Some experts believe that people with pre-existing psychiatric conditions are more likely to develop PCS after a concussion.

No single treatment exists for PCS. Instead, your doctor will treat the symptoms specific to you. Your doctor may refer you to a mental health professional for treatment if you experience anxiety and depression. They might suggest cognitive therapy if you have memory issues.

Medications and Therapy

Your doctor may prescribe antidepressants and anti-anxiety medications to treat your depression and anxiety. A combination of antidepressants and psychotherapy counseling may also be helpful in treating depression.

Most people with PCS fully recover. However, it’s difficult to predict when this might occur. PCS usually goes away within 3 months, but there have been cases that have lasted a year or longer.

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

Here are some ways to help prevent head injuries:

  • Wear your seatbelt while in a vehicle.
  • Ensure that children in your care are in the proper car seats and properly secured.
  • Always wear a helmet when riding a bike, playing impact sports, or riding a horse.