Postconcussion Syndrome

A concussion is a type of traumatic brain injury. An injury to the head can affect the way your brain works. In most cases, concussions resolve within hours or days of the injury. Postconcussion syndrome (PCS) refers to continued symptoms of mild traumatic brain injury. Most often it resolves within a month, but sometimes the symptoms persist for much longer. Treatment depends on the severity and length of time of your symptoms. Options include rest, reduced activity, various therapies, and medications.

  • Causes

    The exact cause of PCS is unknown. Factors that may contribute to PCS include:

    • Microscopic brain damage from a mild brain injury
    • Psychological or emotional stress that results from a mild brain injury

  • Definition

    A concussion is a type of traumatic brain injury. An injury to the head can affect the way your brain works. In most cases, concussions resolve within hours or days of the injury. Postconcussion syndrome (PCS) refers to continued symptoms of mild traumatic brain injury. Most often it resolves within a month, but sometimes the symptoms persist for much longer.

    Treatment depends on the severity and length of time of your symptoms. Options include rest, reduced activity, various therapies, and medications.

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  • Diagnosis

    PCS is hard to diagnose. The brain damage caused by a mild brain injury is so slight that most tests cannot detect it. It is important to see a doctor with special training in brain injury. These doctors are called neurologists, neuropsychologists, and neurosurgeons. To find one of these doctors, talk with your primary care doctor, or call a local head injury foundation for a referral.

    Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done. Tests may include:

    • Memory and attention tests
    • Sports Concussion Assessment Tool
    • Electroencephalogram
      (EEG)—to look for abnormal brain electrical activity

    Imaging tests evaluate the brain and surrounding structures. These may include:

    • CT scan
    • MRI scan

  • Prevention

    There are no current guidelines to prevent PCS.

    To help reduce your chance of getting a head injury, take these steps:

    • Use the child car seat or booster seat based on your child's age and weight
    • Use your seat belt every time you drive or ride in a motor vehicle
    • Wear a helmet to protect your head while playing sports, or riding a motorcycle, bicycle, or snowmobile
    • Use window guards to keep children from falling out of the window
    • Use safety gates at the top and bottom of stairs

  • Risk Factors

    Factors that may increase your chance of having PCS include:

    • Previous head injury or concussion
    • Genetics
    • Persistent headaches or lightheadedness after a mild brain injury

    • Feeling depressed, or being diagnosed with
      depression
      after a mild brain injury

    • Low
      social support, including not having a lot of close friends or people to confide in after a mild brain injury
    • Learning difficulties
    • Preoccupation with injury symptoms, and fear of real or imagined permanent brain damage

  • Symptoms

    PCS symptoms vary from person-to-person. Headache is the most common and earliest symptom of PCS.

    Other symptoms may include:

    • Lightheadedness
    • Balance problems
    • Nausea
    • Vision problems
    • Being very sensitive to noise and/or light
    • Depression
    • Mood swings
    • Anxiety
    • Irritability
    • Memory problems
    • Concentration problems
    • Trouble sleeping
    • Feeling tired all the time

  • Treatment

    PCS treatment depends on your symptoms. Talk with your doctor about the best treatment plan for you. Options include: