Post concussive syndrome, also known as PCS or post concussion syndrome is characterized by a wide range of different symptoms that are typically associated with mild traumatic brain injuries (mTBI). While the science that surrounds post concussive syndrome is rather unclear, doctors are constantly at work to gather more information about the inner workings of this debilitating condition.
Before we can understand more of the information surrounding PCS, we must first take a closer look at concussions in general.
What is a Concussion?
A concussion is a traumatic brain injury which is caused by an impact to the head or an impact with the body that causes the head and neck to move forwards or backward violently. This type of impact is common in car accidents as well as sports, and as a result of the initial impact, the brain can bounce or twist around inside of the skull. This impact can result in chemical changes in the brain, or in more severe cases, brain damage.
What Causes PCS?
When it comes to the causes of PCS, there are divergent schools of thought within medical circles. Some medical professionals believe that the onset of PCS symptoms is related to physical damage of the brain (and sometimes of the neck too) that occurs as a result of the impact or injury that produced the initial concussion.
Other medical professionals believe that the symptoms of PCS are caused by psychological factors. This belief is reinforced by the fact that many of the symptoms that are characteristic of PCS are mirrored by other psychological conditions, like depression, PTSD or anxiety.
What’s certain is that the root cause of post concussive syndrome is a head injury which results in a concussion.
Symptoms of Post Concussion Syndrome
The symptoms associated with this condition are varied and can affect many different aspects of the body. The symptoms associated with PCS are varied and can have physical and psychological effects, as well as effects on our ability to perform higher brain functions. Some symptoms are much more prevalent than others. Many people suffering from PCS only experience a small amount of these symptoms, while in more severe cases, many or all of these symptoms may be experienced.
- Difficulty concentrating
- Memory loss
- Trouble sleeping
- Blurred vision
- Sensitivity to noise
- Sensitivity to light
- Dulling of the senses
- Loss of cognitive ability
Symptoms like a headache and dizziness are the most prevalent of all, and as many as 90% of the people suffering from PCS experience these symptoms.
How is PCS Diagnosed
Currently, there is no one size fits all test that can determine whether or not an individual is suffering from post concussive syndrome. Instead, doctors rely on many different tests, such as MRIs or CT scans in conjunction with a patient’s reported symptoms to diagnose this condition.
The type of symptoms that the individual is experiencing help to determine the type of doctor who is best suited to provide treatment. General physicians as well as neurologists, psychologists, otolaryngologists, physical therapists, chiropractors, and other specialists often work together to provide a diagnosis and a plan for treatment.
Recently, advancements in quantitative electroencephalography (qEEG) have allowed doctors to diagnose PCS with greater accuracy. This type of testing measures an individual’s brain waves and recent studies suggest that this type of testing is effective for diagnosing post concussion syndrome. It’s important to note that this type of medicine is still in its infancy, and more testing is required to determine whether or not qEEG is the best way to diagnose PCS.
What is clear is that some form of baseline testing prior to any concussive injury is the best way to test after a concussion to determine the extent of the injury. There are many opinions about how baseline testing should be done, but it is becoming evident that it must include both functional and cognitive assessment.
How Long Does Post Concussion Syndrome Last
For most people, the symptoms associated with this condition persist for many weeks or even months. In extremely rare cases, symptoms can continue for years or can affect an individual for their entire lifetime, such as when a person develops Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE). The severity of the initial concussion as well as a person’s medical history (i.e how many concussions they have suffered in the past) often play a role in the length of time a person experiences post concussive symptoms.
Treating Post Concussion Syndrome
Sadly, there is no known cure for post concussion syndrome at present. But, doctors can provide treatment for each of the individual symptoms that the affected individual is experiencing.
Physicians have had success treating the headaches associated with PCS by using different medications such as antidepressants, antihypertensives, and anti-epileptics. Many people who are suffering from persistent headaches as a result of PCS experience relief from these symptoms thanks to these medications, or as a result of other non-pharmaceutical care like physical therapy or chiropractic. A doctor will be able to recommend the medications or therapies that are best suited to alleviate these symptoms based on the person’s medical history, their severity of symptoms and any known allergies they may have.
Psychological effects of PCS, such as depression or anxiety are often treated with either medication, psychotherapy or a combination of the two.
Unfortunately, there are currently no medications that provide treatment for symptoms that relate to higher cognitive function, such as memory loss, attention span or higher brain functions. In some cases, cognitive therapy is helpful in reducing the appearance of these symptoms. For many individuals, time is the best medicine when it comes to treating the effects PCS has on higher cognitive function.
Recently, Neurotherapy has become an increasingly useful tool for helping to reduce or eliminate the symptoms associated with post concussion syndrome. While this type of therapy is relatively new, and more research is required to determine its effectiveness, it may be an important tool in the treatment of PCS.
Things To Remember
On the bright side, the appearance of PCS symptoms often subsides on their own after weeks or months. It’s important to keep a positive outlook on the situation and remember that time is a great healer, especially when it comes to post concussion syndrome. You’ll want to keep in mind that everyone heals differently and that your experience with PCS is unique to you.
If you’re dealing with symptoms of PCS, it’s important that you seek the help you need to reduce or eliminate the symptoms you’re experiencing. For most people, finding a qualified medical professional with experience treating individuals suffering from post concussion syndrome is the first step to recovery.