Post-concussion syndrome is a condition that is typically associated with a head injury. The head injury may be categorized as a concussion or a mild traumatic brain injury. In general terms, post-concussion syndrome, or PCS, is a medical problem that persists for a period of time after a head injury has occurred. This period of time can range from weeks to months.
Causes of Post-Concussion Syndrome
In general, post-concussion syndrome follows the occurrence of an injury or trauma to the head. Not all people who suffer mild traumatic head injury experience post-concussion syndrome. It is unclear what may put a particular person at increased risk for symptoms related to this condition.
Diagnosis of Post-Concussion Syndrome
Post-concussion syndrome symptoms are sometimes difficult to interpret because patient-reported experiences can be subjective. For example, differentiating the symptoms of post-concussion syndrome from day-to-day issues such as more standard headaches may be challenging.
There is no definitive test for post-concussion syndrome. Diagnosis is mainly based on a history of symptoms and history of head injury. A physical exam, including a neurological exam, will be done to evaluate symptoms. Other tests may need to be done to rule out other causes of symptoms, such as infection, bleeding injury to the brain, or poisoning.
Symptoms of Post-Concussion Syndrome
Symptoms of post-concussion syndrome are often vague and non-specific.
Commonly reported symptoms include:
- Sleep problems
- Psychological symptoms such as depressed mood, irritability, anxiety
- Cognitive problems involving memory, concentration, thinking
Such symptoms can affect day-to-day life, and inhibit the ability to perform in situations like work. Since symptoms can be vague and attributable to other reasons, it can be difficult to establish a diagnosis.
Treatment of Post-Concussion Syndrome
In most cases, doctors will treat the symptoms of post-concussion syndrome. For example, migraine or pain medications may be prescribed for patients with headache. A specialist such as a neurologist and/or psychiatrist may need to be involved in care and follow-up. A patient may benefit from talk therapy or psychiatric medications. For most patients with post-concussion syndrome, doctors will suggest a recovery strategy that involves ample rest. The combination of proper rest and minimized stress is often helpful in an effective course of treatment.
The Role of Education About Concussions
For some patients, the best post-concussion treatment is education, as patients may experience anxiety about their long-term health. Patients need to be reassured that symptoms are often worse in the first week or two after the injury, but typically improve over a few weeks and resolve within a few months.
The number of instances of post-concussion syndrome is a difficult statistic to compile given the range of symptoms. In addition, there are also questions as to whether post-concussion syndrome affects children in the same way that it affects adults.