Post-concussion syndrome is a complex disorder in which a combination of post-concussion symptoms — such as headaches and dizziness — last for weeks and sometimes months after the injury that caused the concussion.
Concussion is a mild traumatic brain injury, usually occurring after a blow to the head. Loss of consciousness isn’t required for a diagnosis of concussion or post-concussion syndrome. In fact, the risk of post-concussion syndrome doesn’t appear to be associated with the severity of the initial injury.
In most people, post-concussion syndrome symptoms occur within the first seven to 10 days and go away within three months, though they can persist for a year or more. Post-concussion syndrome treatments are aimed at easing specific symptoms.
Post-concussion symptoms, which vary, include:
Headaches that occur after a concussion can vary and may feel like tension-type headaches, cluster headaches or migraines. Most, however, are tension-type headaches, which may be due to a neck injury that happened at the same time as the head injury. In some cases, people experience behavior or emotional changes after a mild traumatic brain injury. Family members may notice that the person has become more irritable, suspicious, argumentative or stubborn.
No specific treatment for post-concussion syndrome exists. Instead, your doctor will treat the individual symptoms you experience. The types of symptoms and their frequency are unique to each person.
Medications commonly used for migraines or tension headaches, including some antidepressants, appear to be effective when these types of headaches are associated with post-concussion syndrome. The overuse of over-the-counter and prescription pain relievers may contribute to persistent post-concussion headaches.
Physical therapy may be helpful in relieving tension-type headache symptoms.
Memory and thinking problems
No medications are currently recommended specifically for the treatment of cognitive problems after mild traumatic brain injury. Most cognitive problems go away on their own in the weeks to months following the injury. Brief, focused rehabilitation that provides individualized training in how to use a pocket calendar, electronic organizer or other techniques to work around memory deficits is often helpful.
Depression and anxiety
If you’re experiencing new or increasing depression or anxiety after a concussion, it may be helpful to discuss this with a psychologist or psychiatrist who has experience in working with people with brain injury. Medications to combat anxiety or depression also may be prescribed. The symptoms of post-concussion syndrome often improve after the affected person learns that there is a cause for his or her symptoms, and that they will likely improve with time. Education about the disorder can ease a person’s fears and help provide peace of mind.