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. This syndrome may be worse in people who have had previous concussions or head trauma. It may also be more severe in those who have early symptoms of headache after injury, or who have mental changes such as amnesia, fogginess or fatigue. Other risk factors include younger age and prior history of headaches. Women and older patients appear to be more susceptible to the development of post-concussion symptoms.
Diagnosis of Post-Concussion Syndrome
Since symptoms can be vague and attributable to other reasons, it can be difficult to diagnose post-concussion syndrome. There is no definitive test for post-concussion syndrome. Diagnosis is mainly based on a history of head injury and reported symptoms. A physical exam, and perhaps a CT or MRI scan of the head, may be done to evaluate symptoms. Other tests may be given 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, and anxiety
- Cognitive problems involving memory, concentration, and thinking
Such symptoms can affect day-to-day life, and inhibit the ability to perform in situations like work.
Treatment of Post-Concussion Syndrome
Most people with post-concussion syndrome are able to recover with rest and by minimizing stress.
Most health care providers will also treat symptoms of post-concussion syndrome. For example, migraine or pain medications may be prescribed for those with headache. A specialist such as a neurologist and/or psychiatrist may also be involved to treat mental health symptoms associated with post-concussion syndrome. Antidepressants and psychotherapy may be recommended.
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.