Post-concussion syndrome (often referred to as "PCS"), is a complex disorder that usually occurs after a head injury, but it is not associated with the severity of the initial injury. Loss of consciousness isn't required for a diagnosis of post-concussion syndrome. In most people, post-concussion syndrome symptoms occur within the first seven to 10 days and go away within three months, though they can persist for a year or more.
Post-concussion symptoms include:
- Headaches (which can vary from like tension-type headache to migraines)
- Loss of concentration and memory
- Noise and light sensitivity
The nature of the symptoms may change over time: acute symptoms are most commonly of a physical nature, while persisting symptoms tend to be predominantly psychological. Symptoms such as noise sensitivity, problems with concentration and memory, irritability, depression, and anxiety may be called 'late symptoms' because they generally do not occur immediately after the injury, but rather in the days or weeks after the injury. In some cases, like the ones after a mild traumatic brain injury, people experience behavior or emotional changes such as: becoming more irritable, suspicious, argumentative or aggressive.
The exact reason why some people develop PCS after a blow to the head is not clear and still remains controversial. A number of different theories have been put forward. One theory states that PCS is caused by tiny areas of bruising to the nerve cells in the brain, caused by head injury. Another one states that the head injury causes an imbalance of chemicals in the brain that leads to the symptoms. Some experts believe PSC is caused by structural damage to the brain or disruption of neurotransmitter systems. Others believe that the symptoms are related to psychological factors. In many cases, both physiological effects of brain trauma and emotional reactions to these effects play a role in the development of symptoms.
Anyone who has recently suffered a concussion is at risk. A person is more likely to develop PCS if they are over the age of 40 or if they are female. As several of the symptoms mirror those associated with depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder, it is believed that people with pre-existing psychiatric conditions are more likely to develop PCS after a concussion.
Some research has shown that there are various risk factors that may make a person more likely to suffer from post-concussion syndrome. These include:
- Being a young male
- Being elderly
- Being homeless
- Having a history of mental health problems
- Being a sportsperson
The only known way to prevent PCS is to avoid the head injury in the first place, even though no one can prepare themselves for every potential situation. Some useful tips and habits for avoiding common causes of head injuries are: fastening seatbelts; using helmets; removing small area rugs, improving lighting and installing handrails.