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. Ttreatment options include rest, reduced activity, various therapies, and medications.

The Brain

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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

Risk Factors

Factors that may increase your chance of having PCS include:

  • Previous head injury or concussion
  • Genetics—low cushioning in your brain may offer less protection
  • 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. PCS may cause:

  • Headache
  • 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

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 take pictures of internal body structures. These may include:

Treatment

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

Medications

Your doctor may recommend:

  • Pain relievers
  • Antidepressants
  • Nerve blocks

Psychological Treatment

You may be referred to a therapist to:

  • Talk about the problems you have related to PCS
  • Learn how to cope with those problems in your life

Vocational Therapy

Vocational therapy may be needed to help you with learning skills and training to start, or resume, a career.

Neurotherapy

Neurotherapy, also called biofeedback is a painless treatment using computers to help you learn how to modify your brainwaves to improve attention and memory.

Surgery

In some cases, a collection of blood in an area of bruising on the brain may require surgery, which may help resolve or improve symptoms.

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

Use these and other recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.