Definition

A concussion is an injury to your brain. It causes problems with how it works. It can make memory, balance, thinking, and coordination hard. Postconcussion syndrome (PCS) is when it lasts longer than 6 months.

The Brain

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Causes

The cause of PCS is unknown. A brain injury may cause a brief change in how brain cells work. This change can get in the way of using your mind and body to do tasks. PCS can also lead to mental health problems.

Risk Factors

PCS is more common in women. It is also more common in older adults.

Other things that may raise your risk are:

  • A prior concussion
  • Abusing drugs or alcohol
  • Prior anxiety or physical problems
  • Loss of consciousness during the event
  • Loss of memory of the event
  • Abnormal neurological tests after the event

Anxiety, trouble with thinking, and noise sensitivity that lasts a few days after the injury may also raise your risk.

Symptoms

Not everyone with PCS feels the same. You may have:

  • Lightheadedness
  • Lack of energy
  • Headache
  • Sleeping problems
  • Lack of interest in the things you use to do
  • Feelings of despair
  • Irritability
  • Personality changes
  • A sensitivity to noise and light
  • Problems focusing

PCS may affect daily tasks, your social life, and working.

Diagnosis

The doctor will ask about your symptoms and activity levels since you got hurt. You will also be asked about your health before you got hurt. Questionnaires and neurological and mental tests may be done. They will help the doctor find out how badly you were hurt. PCS is based on symptoms and how long it has been since you were hurt.

Treatment

You will get better with time. Things can be done to ease symptoms until they pass. The steps you take will depend on your symptoms and how much they get in the way of your everyday life. Talk with your doctor about the best plan for you. Here are some ways to treat PCS:

Resting your body and mind is the best way to treat PCS. Resuming normal activities too quickly can cause you to get worse. You may also get more symptoms.

Physical rest may mean not working as much, having help at home with daily tasks, and taking naps when needed. It will also mean not doing things that can jolt the brain, such as sports, rollercoasters, or certain recreational activities. Athletes should not return to sports until symptoms have passed. Mental rest may mean avoiding multitasking, working less, and not spending too much time on the computer or doing mental tasks.

You will need to return to your normal activities slowly. A medical team will do testing to help find out when it is safest for you to do so.

Here are some medicines that may help:

  • Over the counter or prescription pain relievers
  • Antidepressants—may help manage depression, anxiety, sleep problems, mood changes, and lack of energy
  • Sleep medication—for severe sleep problems

Managing a health problem can be stressful. You may also have mental health problems like anxiety, depression, and mood swings. Counseling can help to:

  • Make healthier thought patterns
  • Come up with skills to manage problems with your relationships
  • Learn coping skills and ways to reduce stress

Some symptoms can make it hard for you to complete tasks. Occupational and physical therapy may help you find new ways to handle these tasks. Therapy may also help you make habits that help ease some symptoms.

Prevention

PCS can’t be prevented.