What is post-concussion syndrome?

Even after the initial symptoms of a brain injury fade, many sufferers report ongoing problems. These may include physical symptoms, such as headaches and dizziness, as well as psychological symptoms. Patients have reported cognitive problems including irritability, difficulty concentrating, and difficulty regulating emotion and behavior for a long time after a traumatic brain injury. These symptoms may continue for weeks, months, or even years.

The diagnostic criteria for post-concussion syndrome include:

  • A history of traumatic brain injury causing "significant cerebral concussion"
  • Symptoms that first appeared or worsened after the injury
  • Cognitive deficit in memory or attention
  • The presence of at least 3 of the following symptoms, which appeared after the injury and continued for at least 3 months:
    • Fatigue
    • Sleep disturbance
    • Headache
    • Dizziness
    • Irritability
    • Affective disturbance
    • Personality change
    • Apathy
  • Symptoms severe enough to interfere with social role functioning

Diagnosing post-concussion syndrome is often difficult, as doctors have no simple scan or test that they can turn to when they need to figure out what’s wrong. Because people often sustain brain injuries in traumatic accidents, it can be difficult to differentiate between post-concussion syndrome, post-traumatic stress syndrome, and other underlying conditions like other mental illnesses or the stress of recovering from a physical injury.

Treatment for post-concussion syndrome will usually focus on helping patients deal with the symptoms of the condition. Painkillers that help with migraines and tension headaches may be useful for patients who are experiencing headaches. For patients with cognitive problems, depression, and anxiety, a combination of medication and psychotherapy can help them learn to cope with their condition. Unfortunately, there is no simple cure for post-concussion syndrome.