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What Is Post-Concussion Syndrome?

Posted on January 8, 2019

Most patients who suffer concussions will notice symptoms disappearing within two to three weeks, and heal completely within about a month. Rest and avoiding subsequent head injuries is usually enough to recover from a concussion without lasting side effects. Unfortunately, some victims experience post-concussion syndrome. Post-concussion syndrome is a concussion case where symptoms last longer than a month, or beyond the expected recovery time. It is a complex disorder that can interrupt a victim’s life for weeks or months after an injury.

Why Does Post-Concussion Syndrome Happen?

Most people who suffer concussions do not experience post-concussion syndrome. It also does not seem to correlate with the severity of the head injury. Researchers have yet to agree on definite causes of post-concussion syndrome. Some believe structural damage to the brain in the initial injury can cause long-lasting symptoms, while others believe psychological factors can contribute. Having depression or anxiety, for example, could contribute to experiencing post-concussive symptoms longer than usual.

Some research supports the psychological theory, suggesting that preexisting factors may exacerbate the symptoms of traumatic brain injuries like concussions. These factors may include depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, cognitive impairment, and other mental and psychological problems. Other researchers have found evidence connecting histories of prior concussions with post-concussion syndrome.

Females and older individuals may also be at higher risk, according to research. Medical history could also affect the risk of post-concussion syndrome, increasing the odds if someone has mood disorders, seizures, a history of migraines, or a history of delayed recoveries. Yet it appears that anyone can develop post-concussion syndrome, making it impossible to predict and prevent.

Symptoms of Post-Concussion Syndrome

Like the brain injury itself, post-concussion syndrome can have many symptoms from patient to patient. It may present itself one way to on patient, and an entirely different way to another. This can make post-concussion syndrome difficult to diagnose. In general, a patient should see a doctor about potential post-concussion syndrome if he or she notices any unusual physical, emotional, or cognitive challenges for longer than a month after suffering a concussion. Some symptoms are more common than others.

  • Severe headaches or migraines
  • Sensitivity to light or noise
  • Blurred vision
  • Fatigue
  • Dizziness
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Delayed thinking
  • Memory challenges
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Trouble sleeping

If you hit your head and experienced symptoms of a concussion, you should have gone to a doctor for an official diagnosis. Then, follow the doctor’s instructions during recovery, such as resting and temporarily withdrawing from sports. If concussive symptoms continue to persist after your doctor said the injury should have fully healed, consider the possibility of post-concussion syndrome.

What to Do About Post-Concussion Syndrome

Diagnosing post-concussion syndrome can be difficult. A doctor may listen to your complaints and order computerized tomography (CT) scans or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans of your brain. These can check for abnormalities in the structure of your brain. If you do receive a post-concussion syndrome diagnosis, no direct treatment exists. Doctors can only treat the symptoms, not the underlying cause or head injury.

Post-concussion syndrome can inflict physical and emotional challenges upon the sufferer with no end in sight. Long-term post-concussion syndrome can disrupt a patient’s life, causing an inability to work, medications to manage symptoms, and absence from normal activities. The victim may face expensive medical bills, pain and suffering, lost wages, and other challenges. Severe cases can negatively impact an individual’s personal and professional life.

Recovering from post-concussion syndrome is similar to recovering from a concussion. Doctors may prescribe rest to allow the brain to naturally heal itself. Doctors may also provide therapies or medicines to help relieve symptoms. Note that post-concussion syndrome is not the same as other complications of concussions, including chronic traumatic encephalopathy and second-impact syndrome. See a doctor if you believe you or a loved one could be suffering from post-concussion syndrome.