What to know about post-concussion syndrome

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Post-concussion syndrome (PCS) is a condition in which the symptoms of concussion or a head injury last long after the initial injury.

PCS can last for months or years, but the symptoms improve over time, and, in most cases, people make a full recovery.

In this article, we look at the symptoms of PCS and how long they last. We also cover causes and risk factors, diagnosis, treatment options, and possible complications.

Long term effects from a concussion are not common. After getting a concussion, the majority of people recover from the initial symptoms within 2 weeks to a month. However, approximately 20% of people will experience PCS and have symptoms that last for longer than 6 weeks.

According to some sources, concussion symptoms that affect three or more “domains” — which include emotional changes and cognitive impairment — for more than 1 or 2 months are indicative of PCS.

PCS can last for months or even years, but the symptoms do not worsen. PCS improves over time, and, in most cases, people recover from it.

The symptoms of PCS can include:

  • headaches
  • dizziness
  • fatigue
  • increased sensitivity to light
  • increased sensitivity to noise
  • irritability
  • changes in emotional state, such as becoming more susceptible to stress
  • depression
  • anxiety
  • difficulty concentrating
  • memory problems
  • difficulty sleeping
  • increased intolerance to alcohol
  • change in appetite

Many of these symptoms overlap with those of other medical conditions, such as post-traumatic stress disorder and chronic pain.

Treatment

Treatment for PCS focuses on providing symptom relief to help a person manage the condition. Rest is one of the most important components of PCS treatment as it allows the brain to recover and heal from a concussion.

Where possible, doctors often avoid using medication to treat PCS symptoms because an injury to the head can make the brain more sensitive to drug use and possible side effects.

Doctors may advise people to wait several weeks before starting an active treatment, such as an exercise plan or another type of therapy. This delay gives the brain time to recover from the initial head injury without putting too much strain on brain cells that may still be healing.

People can try a range of different therapies that may help their recovery from PCS. For all of these therapies, a person will work with a medical professional who will monitor their progress and can adjust the treatment plan as necessary to suit them.

Vision therapy

Vision therapy uses a range of exercises to help people who have vision problems due to PCS. The exercises can help repair damage to the visual system or help the brain adapt to changes in connectivity.

Neuro-optometric rehabilitation

Neuro-optometric rehabilitation also works to target any vision problems that people may be experiencing. A treatment plan will combine the use of lenses, prisms, and filters to help stimulate parts of the brain that are not working as usual.

Balance therapy

Balance, or vestibular, therapy can help people if they are experiencing a lot of dizziness as a symptom of PCS. Exercises to encourage balance and stability can help reduce this disorienting symptom.

Physical therapy

If PCS causes physical pain in the body, physical therapy can help relieve symptoms. This therapy might include massage, gentle exercise, and heat therapy to relax the body and aid recovery.

Exertion therapy

Exertion therapy uses gentle aerobic exercise to help the body recover. People might use a pool or a piece of gym equipment, such as a treadmill, that carries minimal risk of head injury.

A medical professional will monitor the individual carefully during this therapy to make sure that they are not overdoing the exercise, which may slow down recovery.

Cognitive behavioral therapy

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) may help people who have mood-related PCS symptoms, such as depression, anxiety, or mood swings.

CBT helps people become aware of negative thought patterns and behavior and provides them with practical tools to overcome these issues.

 

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