Post-Concussion Syndrome: Diagnosis, Treatment, and Recovery

Post-Concussion Syndrome: Diagnosis, Treatment, and Recovery

A concussion is a term for a change in usual brain function due to an external mechanical force. This kind of force is usually a sort of head impact (whether it is direct or indirect). Many people might think of a concussion as only sports-related as sports may be the reason behind 300,000 brain injuries each year. But it can occur in many different ways. 

After the concussion, the person might undergo: 

  • Memory loss of events before or after the concussion
  • A period of unconsciousness
  • A change in their mental state right after sustaining the injury
  • A specific neurological problem after the injury

After the concussion itself, there are sometimes symptoms that stay with the person for some time. This is what we know as post-concussion syndrome. It usually occurs after a more severe head trauma or severe concussion symptoms. 

But post-concussion syndrome always starts with a head injury. If someone doesn’t take the right steps towards treating the concussion, they’re more likely to get post-concussion syndrome or PCS. 

PCS can be a bit tricky to detect and diagnose. If you’re suffering from it, chances are that you have feelings of depression, anxiety, and other problematic issues. 

Perhaps, you’ve been thinking about various problems a mile a minute? Always feeling like there’s an urgent matter to take care of but can’t quite remember what it was?  All those overwhelming feelings just might be related to an issue in your brain activity . If you’ve recently experienced any head trauma, don’t dismiss these issues as a normal part of life. They just might be related to post-concussion syndrome.

Fortunately, the human body has an amazing ability to recover and recuperate when it’s down. Post-concussion syndrome symptoms are no different. However, it does help to know more about this particular health condition. 

Symptoms of Post-concussion Syndrome

There are a few kinds of post-concussion syndrome symptoms that we should be aware of. Most of these symptoms might be apparent right away, within 24 hours after sustaining the injury, or in the following few days. However, some delayed symptoms may eventually become the primary symptoms leading to a diagnosis of post-concussion syndrome.

Let’s now have a look at each different kind of symptoms in turn: 

Physical symptoms

The physical symptoms that affect the body for a specific period after a concussion include:

  • Any kind of headache (including migraines and tension)
  • A feeling of dizziness or vertigo
  • Issues with seeing (such as double vision or blurred vision)
  • Nausea and/or vomiting
  • Tinnitus (i.e., a ringing noise in the ear)
  • Sensitivity to light which includes difficulty in using screens
  • Sleep problems such as insomnia 
  • Fatigue or unexplained tiredness
  • Pain in the neck and stiffness in movements

Psychological symptoms

PCS also has some psychological effects, including the following:

  • High anxiety
  • Depression or depressive thoughts
  • Irritability
  • Irrationality,including hypochondria or an unwillingness to resume regular activities
  • Lack of impulse control
  • Inability to maintain steady or positive relationships with other people 

Cognitive symptoms

Cognitive symptoms for PCS have to do with memory and thought processes. With this syndrome, people may experience: 

  • Brain fog
  • Difficulty focusing
  • Loss of memory
  • Slow or inaccurate speech 
  • Difficulty  multitasking
  • Difficulty reading 

Causes and Risk Factors of PCS

A TBI or Traumatic Brain Injury can be the main cause of PCS. Some research points towards the damage to white matter in our brain as the culprit behind developing this syndrome. 

This white matter is brain tissue that is made up of nerve fibers. Any tissue damage in this area can destroy or otherwise affect the connections between the body and the brain. With these crossed or damaged wires, post-concussion syndrome symptoms are likely. 

The main cause aside, some risk factors may put certain groups of people at a higher PCS risk than others. Females are more likely to get PCS, as are elderly folks. The other groups include those who have a history of: 

  • Seizures
  • Migraines
  • Learning disorders
  • Anxiety
  • Mood swings or mood disorders
  • Previous concussions

Of course, people who place themselves at risk of a TBI might also be at higher risk of PCS. These include athletes, military people, and so on. At least one research study on traumatic brain injury in war veterans shows how military personnel can be at high risk for such injuries. 

How Post-concussion Syndrome is Diagnosed

We can get a proper post-concussion syndrome diagnosis by conducting physical tests on the patient along with looking at their medical history. Visual and neurological tests are also common here, along with vestibular tests. All of these can help to rule out other possible diagnoses.

How Post-concussion Syndrome is Treated

After a post-concussion syndrome diagnosis, it’s time to think about a decent post-concussion syndrome treatment. There are various options including getting plenty of rest and monitoring the symptoms. 

The medical community now views concussion recovery as of the utmost importance to prevent and fight PCS. For now, early treatment remains the best option for a good recovery. 

Two recovery processes

The two main recovery processes for PCS include: 

  • Healing of the damage in the nerve cell (this is usually the early phase)
  • Undamaged neurons make up for the lack in the damaged areas (neuroplasticity)

There isn’t any fixed treatment protocol for concussions yet. So, don’t worry too much about not getting the same method as that of someone else’s. Every concussion patient will have a somewhat different injury. Since the brain is a complex and delicate system, injuries to it will require specific treatments according to the case at hand.

The treatment will require a skilled concussion therapist who can monitor the symptoms and their effects. They can then change up the treatment on a weekly or even daily basis according to your prognosis. The recovery process should include at least 3 factors:

  • Limited exposure to ‘bad’ stimulation
  • More or repeated exposure to several forms of ‘good’ stimulation
  • The passage of time

The Option of Neuroplasticity

Science has seen a lot of progress, especially in the past few decades, and the understanding of neuroplasticity is transforming how brain injuries are viewed and treated. There might now be no need to live with the more severe symptoms of PCS. If you’ve suffered a moderate or even mild head injury in the past, research now suggests that poor concentration, confusion, depression, and anxiety may be stemming from the initial inflammation in the brain following a concussion. Fortunately, neuroplasticity means that the brain can heal itself from injuries and in some cases it is possible to fully recover from this damage. PCS patients can perform exercises that may speed up their healing, similar to physical therapy for expediting recovery in an injured limb. 

The brain’s self-healing abilities are astounding. With a neuroplasticity-based approach to treatment,  the brain may be able to recover  more quickly and completely.

Neuroplasticity refers to the brain’s healing; more specifically, its capacity to adapt, recover, and get back to its regular state. There are several factors regarding recovery from PCS, with numerous case studies within scientific literature such as Norman Doidge’s book, “The Brain’s Way of Healing.” Books like these are giving us new hope in neuroplasticity training, which is what re-origin® deals with. This sort of training can aid speedy recovery and reduce PCS symptoms along the way.

It’s also helpful for anyone recovering from PCS to have a strong, supportive community to help you stay motivated and positive while overcoming this challenging time. No matter how much you focus on improving lifestyle factors by doing things like eating well and lowering stress on your own, getting in touch with people who understand your situation will always help more. Check out the re-origin® neuroplasticity program and see if it’s a right fit for you. 

How to Cope and Live with PCS

PCS might not go away soon, but you can speed up the process with your determination and commitment to the process. However, it can get better with time and treatments like neuroplasticity. Those who suffer from it might want to change their daily routine to reduce stress, get more rest, and eventually recover. You don’t need to spend the next few months or years coping with overwhelming emotions all by yourself. You can overcome them and return to feeling like yourself again.

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Conclusion

PCS can be confusing and overwhelming. But the advent of neuroplasticity training now shines a whole new light on the matter. After all, your incredible brain can change and heal at any age.  You are not stuck in a rut here and you are not alone. With neuroplasticity training and a bit of hope, re-origin® can help you get back on track starting today!

Frequently Asked Questions about PCS

What causes post-concussion syndrome?

A physical trauma such as a blow to the head or whiplash, whether direct or indirect, can lead to a concussion. If the concussion is severe or doesn’t get the proper treatment, it may lead to PCS. 

How long does post-concussion syndrome last?

Post-concussion syndrome symptoms can last for more than 6 weeks. It can also go for months and even years. However, the symptoms are not prone to worsening over time. PCS is more likely to improve as time goes by. 

What are the long-term effects of post-concussion syndrome?

If post-concussion syndrome symptoms persist over a long period, the individuals suffering from it may experience the following issues: 

  • Headaches
  • Balancing issues
  • Light and/or noise sensitivity
  • Depression
  • Anxiety

How long does it take to recover from post-concussion syndrome?

The symptoms of PCS can last for several weeks and even months. However, if they persist for more than 3 months, sources such as this clinic’s website say that it’s probably best to seek treatment. The recovery time after that will depend on the kind of treatment you get. 

References

  1. Gessel L, Fields S, Collins C, MA, Dick R & Comstock R (2007) Concussions Among United States High School and Collegiate Athletes. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2140075/Lindquist L,Love H, and Elbogen E (2017). NCBI. Traumatic Brain Injury in Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans: New Results from a National Random Sample Study https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5501743/
  2. RYAN1 L & WARDEN. (2003). Post-concussion syndrome. International Review of Psychiatry. https://coe.uoregon.edu/cds/files/2018/06/Ryan-Post-concussion-syndrome.pdf
  3. Narayana P. (2017). NCBI. White matter changes in patients with mild traumatic brain injury: MRI perspective. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6093760/
  4. Renga V. (2021). Neurology Research International. Clinical Evaluation and Treatment of Patients with Postconcussion Syndrome. https://www.hindawi.com/journals/nri/2021/5567695/News GP. (2019). The potentially long-lasting effects of concussion. https://www1.racgp.org.au/newsgp/clinical/the-long-lasting-effects-of-concussion

Dr. Diana Rangaves is a pharmacist, philanthropist, and ethics professor turned writer. An accomplished educator, award-winning teacher, and business professional, she uses her powers for good.


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