What is post-concussion syndrome?
The majority of people with concussion find their symptoms ease and disappear over time. However, for some, symptoms continue more than three months after the original injury. Post-concussion syndrome (which is sometimes called post-concussive syndrome) is an umbrella term for a cluster of difficulties that are present three months or more after an injury and may include:
- Regular and persistent headaches
- Difficulties with memory
- Sensitivity to noise or light
Why do some people develop post-concussion syndrome?
The reason why some people continue to experience difficulties after concussion while others recover is not fully understood. There is not always a clear link between the severity of the injury and post-concussion syndrome: those with apparently mild concussion may experience ongoing difficulties.
One theory is that tiny areas of bruising, not evident in a standard scan, can cause symptoms of post-concussion syndrome; other theories suggest the original injury causes a chemical imbalance in the brain. Some studies suggest certain groups face a comparatively higher risk of developing post-concussion syndrome: young males, the elderly, people with a history of mental health problems, sportspeople, particularly if they have experienced more than one incident of concussion.
Diagnosing post-concussion syndrome
There is no definitive test for post-concussion syndrome. It is a diagnosis made after a medical history, considering the original injury and presenting symptoms. Sometimes, specialist imaging may be helpful to pin-point changes within the brain, although they may not always be visible.
A very careful, detailed assessment of symptoms is required. It is recognised that a person may be experiencing difficulties that reflect changes within the brain combined with psychological and emotional factors. There may be trauma from the original injury and high levels of anxiety about what is happening; why they are not able to return to normal. There are often major impacts upon family members of the affected individual, such as rising levels of irritability and difficult behavior.
People with post-concussion syndrome and their families need a skilled assessment and wide-ranging support to meet their health, emotional and cognitive needs.