All You Need to Know about Post-Concussion Syndrome

Post-concussion syndrome can be relatively unfamiliar to people. To understand it better, causes, treatment, symptoms are explained here.

A concussion is a brain injury that frequently occurs following minor head injuries. Post-concussion syndrome is a group of symptoms which some people experience following a concussion and is considered a concussion complication. Some signs may include concentration and memory problems, dizziness and headache. The symptoms usually disappear within 3 months following the head injury, and treatment aims to relieve symptoms. Most people find it helpful to have an explanation and diagnosis.

What Causes Post-Concussion Syndrome?

Most of the time, it occurs after a trauma or injury to the head, but not everyone who experiences a mild traumatic head injury. The syndrome can be worse in those with previous head trauma or concussions, those who experienced early headache following the injury, or those with mental changes like fatigue, fogginess or amnesia. Prior headache history and being younger are also risk factors. Other factors that can increase your risk involve being female or having a history of affective disorders or cognitive dysfunction.

What Are the Common Symptoms?

There are three categories: physical, psychological or cognitive symptoms.

Physical symptoms affect specific areas of the body in a physical manner, including:

  • Changed or lost senses of taste and/or smell
  • Fatigue
  • Blurred vision
  • Tinnitus (ringing of the ears)
  • Sensitivity for loud noises
  • Sensitivity for bright lights
  • Dizziness
  • Headaches which are frequently described as being similar to migraines, including a throbbing pain in the front or one side of the head

Psychological symptoms affect the emotions or feelings of the patient, and these include:

  • Sudden inappropriate emotional outbursts, including crying or fits of laughter without reason
  • Lack of energy
  • Lack of interest in the surrounding world
  • Irritability
  • Anxiety
  • Depression

Cognitive symptoms affect the patient’s ability to think and these can include:

  • Difficulties reasoning
  • Difficulties learning new information
  • Forgetfulness
  • Decreased concentration

How to Diagnose Post-Concussion Syndrome

It is actually fairly difficult to diagnose and this has led to considerable controversy. It is more difficult to diagnose than other conditions for several reasons, including that the cognitive defects typically last less than one to three months and that the symptoms themselves are not always specific.

Because of this, doctors can sometimes find it challenging to tell whether the symptoms their patient is experiencing are due to the concussion that occurred recently or from another cause, like pre-existing conditions such as migraine headaches or clinical depression.

Doctors will frequently consider symptoms following the concussion and when exactly they occur. If, for example, the symptoms started right after the head trauma and tend to worsen with physical activity, but get better with rest, then they will usually determine that the concussion caused the symptoms.

If, however, these symptoms get worse with minimal exercise that requires very little exertion and they don’t get better with rest, they may be from another problem. One common explanation for these types of symptoms would be a psychological symptom from an extended time of inactivity and/or frustration with the fact that you can’t go back to sports and other normal activities.

How to Treat Post-Concussion Syndrome

Most people will notice symptoms get better and disappear in 3 months or less following the head injury. Although a specific diagnosis and explanation may help emotionally, experts have not found a specific treatment to encourage recovery. Instead, treatment works by relieving the specific symptoms, therefore it can vary greatly from patient to patient depending on the symptoms they are experiencing.

Despite this, certain things can help, both with healing and returning to their normal life. These will work no matter what symptoms are experienced.

  • Take it slow: Any medical professional will suggest that if you have a head injury, you should take it slow when returning to your normal activities. The ideal state is to return to these normal activities slowly and gradually.
  • Find a sleep schedule: In some cases, you may feel very tired and have sleepingissues. When this happens, try to keep a regular schedule during the day as well as at night.
  • Take medication: In some cases, your doctor might prescribe medicationor suggest an over-the-counter option to treat specific post-concussion syndrome symptoms. Some examples would be antidepressants for depression, medication for nausea, or painkillers for headaches.
  • Lower stress levels: You should lower your stress levels and keep them under control.
  • Avoid drugs and alcohol: Avoid these substances while recovering.

In cases where your symptoms are particularly troublesome or last a longtime, your physician may recommend visiting a doctor that specializes in head injuries and related problems. This can include a range of specialists, including a neuropsychologist or a neuropsychiatrist that focuses on issues with mental health and the brain, a rehabilitation medicine specialist, or a neurologist (who focuses on nervous system problems).

There are also a range of other healthcare professionals that can help you rehabilitate, such as physiotherapists and occupational therapists. They can help you work on strategies to help with concentration or memory problems. Some people also find relaxation techniques and cognitive behavioral therapy useful.

How to Prevent Post-Concussion Syndrome

The main method is to take steps to prevent the occurrence of a concussion or head injury in the first place. As such, preventing the syndrome typically involves taking specific safety measures when in a dangerous environment.

Anytime you are driving or riding in a car or some other vehicle, you should wear your seat belt. If you are participating in a high risk sport (like skiing), be sure to wear a helmet. Also wear your helmet if you are riding a motorcycle or cycling on your bicycle. Depending on your job, workplace environment, or where you live, you should also wear a hard hat for safety.

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