What is Post-Concussion Syndrome & Can It Be Treated?

Most people are aware of what a concussion is, but many remain unaware of the complex disorder known as post-concussion syndrome. Also known as a post-concussive syndrome, this condition is an umbrella term used to refer to a wide variety of lingering symptoms that follow a concussion or a mild brain injury. Post-concussion syndrome generally only gets diagnosed when a person who has recently experienced a trauma to the head continues to feel the symptoms of a concussion even a week after getting injured. Here’s everything you need to know about what is a post-concussion syndrome and can it be treated.

What is Post-Concussion Syndrome?

Post-concussion syndrome (PCS) is a complex disorder in which the symptoms of a concussion, such as dizziness and headaches, tend to last for weeks and sometimes even for months after experiencing the injury that led to the concussion.(1)

A concussion is known to be a mild traumatic brain injury or a blow to the head. Concussions are commonly observed after there is a whip-lash type of injury that causes your brain and head to shake back and forth rapidly. Violently shaking the upper body can also lead to a concussion. The effects of a concussion are usually temporary and may include problems with memory, concentration, coordination, balance, headaches, and dizziness.

There is an increased risk of getting a concussion if you play impact sports such as boxing or football. While concussions are not really life-threatening, they still need to be checked out by a doctor as they can cause severe complications if left untreated.(2)

Post-concussion syndrome is usually only diagnosed when a person with a concussion gets back to their doctor about continuing to feel the symptoms of a concussion. These may include:

In some cases, a person may experience post-concussion syndrome within a few days of getting a head injury. However, in other cases, it might even take several weeks for the symptoms to start.

People with a mild traumatic brain injury or any type of head injury may experience the symptoms of post-concussion syndrome.(3)

Anybody who has recently experienced a concussion is considered to be at risk for developing post-concussion syndrome. However, the chances of developing post-concussion syndrome are higher if you are over the age of 40 years.

People with underlying psychiatric conditions are also believed to be at a higher risk of developing post-concussion syndrome.

Symptoms of Post-Concussion Syndrome

You are likely to be diagnosed with post-concussion syndrome after a head injury if you experience at least three to four of the following signs and symptoms:

Post-concussion headaches vary from person to person. It may even feel like a migraine headache or tension headaches. Usually, they feel like tension headaches and are associated with a neck injury that might have happened at the same time as the head injury.

Doctors will look for at least three to four of these symptoms before diagnosing you with post-concussion syndrome. The symptoms also vary from person to person, and your doctor may order an MRI or a CT scan to rule out any significant brain injury or abnormalities.

Doctors typically recommend a lot of rest after you have a concussion, though sometimes too much of rest can end up prolonging the psychological symptoms of post-concussion syndrome.(4)

Nevertheless, it is also advisable to take adequate rest and avoid returning back to your daily activities while the signs or symptoms of a concussion are still present. It is especially not recommended that you return back to playing sports before you feel entirely alright.

What are the Causes of Post-Concussion Syndrome?

Many experts believe that the symptoms of post-concussion syndrome are caused due to structural damage caused to the brain during the head injury. It can also be caused due to a disruption of the messaging system present within the nerves of the brain, again caused by the impact experienced during the injury that led to the concussion.(5)

Some of the common causes of post-concussion syndrome include:

  • Being in a car accident
  • Having a fall
  • Being assaulted violently
  • Experiencing a blow or injury to the head while playing impact sports, especially football and boxing(6)

There is no clarity yet on why some people end up developing post-concussion syndrome while others do not. It has been seen that the severity of the injury or the concussion has no role to play in whether the person will develop post-concussion syndrome.

Can Post-Concussion Syndrome be Treated?

While post-concussion syndrome can be treated, there is no one mode of treatment for this disorder. Instead, your doctor will treat the symptoms you are experiencing.(7) For example, if you also experience depression and anxiety, then you might be further referred to a mental health professional. If you are having memory issues, then you might be recommended to undergo cognitive therapy.

Most people who have post-concussion syndrome go on to make a complete recovery. However, there is no way of predicting when the patient recovers. While in most cases, post-concussion syndrome tends to go away within three to four months, but many people have experienced symptoms that lasted a year or even longer.(8)

Conclusion: Preventing Post-Concussion Syndrome

The exact cause behind why some people experience post-concussion syndrome following a concussion is still unclear, and the only way to prevent this disorder is by preventing getting hurt on the head.

Here are some tips to help prevent head injuries or brain trauma:

  • Always fasten your seatbelt while driving a vehicle.
  • Make sure that you put your children in proper car seats, and they are appropriately secured. Check that the car seats are correctly installed.
  • Always wear the proper headgear when riding a horse or a bike, or even while playing impact sports.

References:

  1. Ryan, L.M. and Warden, D.L., 2003. Post-concussion syndrome. International review of psychiatry, 15(4), pp.310-316.
  2. Kelly, J.P., Nichols, J.S., Filley, C.M., Lillehei, K.O., Rubinstein, D. and Kleinschmidt-DeMasters, B.K., 1991. Concussion in sports: guidelines for the prevention of catastrophic outcome. Jama, 266(20), pp.2867-2869.
  3. Smith-Seemiller, L., Fow, N.R., Kant, R. and Franzen, M.D., 2003. Presence of post-concussion syndrome symptoms in patients with chronic pain vs mild traumatic brain injury. Brain Injury, 17(3), pp.199-206.
  4. Broshek, D.K., De Marco, A.P. and Freeman, J.R., 2015. A review of post-concussion syndrome and psychological factors associated with concussion. Brain injury, 29(2), pp.228-237.
  5. Rutherford, W., Merrett, J. and Mcdonali, J., 1977. Sequelae of concussion caused by minor head injuries. The Lancet, 309(8001), pp.1-4.
  6. Belanger, H.G. and Vanderploeg, R.D., 2005. The neuropsychological impact of sports-related concussion: a meta-analysis. Journal of the International Neuropsychological Society, 11(4), pp.345-357.
  7. Willer, B. and Leddy, J.J., 2006. Management of concussion and post-concussion syndrome. Current treatment options in neurology, 8(5), pp.415-426.
  8. Mittenberg, W., Canyock, E.M., Condit, D. and Patton, C., 2001. Treatment of post-concussion syndrome following mild head injury. Journal of clinical and experimental neuropsychology, 23(6), pp.829-836.

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