Have you heard of Post Concussion Syndrome? Although just about everybody has heard of concussions, a surprising number of people don’t realize that the effects of even a mild head injury can last for weeks or even months.
Imagine you are walking down a sidewalk in the winter and hit a patch of ice. Just like that, down you go. When you fall, you smack your head on the pavement. When you visit the doctor, you learn that you have a concussion. Weeks after your mishap you are still dizzy, and your vision is still blurry. You are sensitive to loud noises and bright lights. Not to mention that your memory and ability to concentrate just aren’t up to par. This is Post Concussion Syndrome.
What Is a Concussion?
A concussion is actually a type of traumatic brain injury (TBI). Usually, the cause of a concussion is a blow to the head. However, anything that “rattles the brain” around inside the skull can cause a concussion. This includes violently shaking the head. A concussion occurs when a jolt causes the brain to slam off of the inside of the skull, injuring the delicate tissues.
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), a concussion isn’t as simple as just bruising the brain. Concussions can also lead to a change in brain chemistry and can stretch or damage brain cells.
Concussions aren’t usually life-threatening. For this reason, doctors consider them mild brain injuries. However, this doesn’t mean that concussions aren’t serious. Far from it.
Symptoms of a Concussion
Anytime someone experiences a blow to the head you should watch them closely for any signs of a concussion. A common myth is that a person has to lose consciousness to have a concussion. This is not true. A person might experience a myriad of symptoms, all of which can hint if that person has a concussion. Some of the most common include:
- Memory loss
- Balance problems
- Blurry vision
- Appearing “dazed.”
- Just feeling “off.”
In children, inconsolable crying, listlessness, or a lack of interest in their favorite toys can also be signs of a concussion. If you suspect someone has a concussion, you should seek medical attention for them right away.
What Is Post Concussion Syndrome
Usually, the brain heals, and the symptoms of a concussion clear up on their own rather quickly. In most cases, a full recovery is made in a few days or six weeks at most. But this isn’t always how it works for everybody. Post Concussion Syndrome is when the symptoms of a concussion last longer than normal. Some people find that they are still experiencing the effects of their concussion months after their injury.
One theory about what causes Post Concussion Syndrome to develop in some people but not others is that the concussion causes structural damage to the brain and disrupts the messaging system between the neurons. The second is that the prolonged symptoms of Post Concussion Syndrome. However, the severity of the initial injury does not appear to determine whether or not a person develops this condition.
Because Post Concussion Syndrome is more common in people who have depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, or are experiencing significant life stressors, some researchers believe Post Concussion Syndrome has a psychological component. Interestingly, some of the symptoms, such as dizziness and headaches, are also common in depression.
Clearly, more research is needed to understand the complexity of Post Concussion Syndrome.
Symptoms of Post Concussion Syndrome
The symptoms of Post Concussion Syndrome are much the same as the symptoms of a concussion. This makes sense since Post Concussion Syndrome is when the symptoms of a concussion do not improve as quickly as they should. Symptoms of Post Concussion Syndrome include the following:
- Memory loss
- Difficulty concentrating
- Ears ringing
- Blurry vision
- Sensitivity to noise and light
Headaches are one of the most common symptoms of Post Concussion Syndrome and can come in many forms following a traumatic brain injury of any kind. Migraines and tension headaches are both common in people who have Post Concussion Syndrome.
There are two risk factors for Post Concussion Syndrome (in addition to taking part in activities that make a blow to the head more likely). The first risk factor is age. The older a person is, the more likely they are to develop Post Concussion Syndrome after a head injury.
Another risk factor is gender. Women are more likely to receive a diagnosis of Post Concussion Syndrome than their male counterparts. However, there is a possibility that this is simply because women are more likely to seek out medical treatment than men are.
Diagnosing Post Concussion Syndrome
Unfortunately, there is no simple test for Post Concussion Syndrome. To diagnose the initial concussion, the doctor will take a medical history and perform a neurological exam. Most doctors will perform a cranial computerized tomography (CT) scan or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to examine the damage to the structure of the brain. The doctor will also conduct cognitive testing to evaluate memory and concentration.
When a person who has recently had a concussion doesn’t begin to show improvement, the doctor will consider a diagnosis of Post Concussion Syndrome. Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and may repeat imaging studies such as a CT scan or MRI.
Treatments for Post Concussion Syndrome
Post Concussion Syndrome doesn’t have a quick fix or cure. It just takes time. However, some treatments can help you to manage the symptoms.
Headaches following a concussion are responsive to the same medications used to treat migraines or tension-type headaches that stem from other causes. The most effective of these drugs are antidepressants, anti-hypertensives, and anti-epileptics. Don’t forget that using over-the-counter headache remedies such as ibuprofen too frequently can actually cause headaches to worsen, particularly after a concussion.
Cognitive therapy can help with the concentration and memory problems that are often a symptom of Post Concussion Syndrome. Speech and occupational therapy can also be helpful for patients who are still experiencing these symptoms following a concussion. Because depression and anxiety are symptoms of Post Concussion Syndrome, psychotherapy is sometimes helpful. So are drugs such as anti-depressants or anti-anxiety medications.
The Road Back to Health
However, despite all of these treatments, the only real cure for Post Concussion Syndrome is time. Make sure you get plenty of rest and avoid stress as much as possible. Allow your body the time it needs to heal and be patient with yourself. As they say, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Try to prevent concussions and the head injuries that cause them from occurring in the first place. Although preventing a concussion isn’t always an option, safety precautions (such as wearing a helmet when riding a bike) give you the best shot at protecting yourself from Post Concussion Syndrome.