What is Post-Concussion Syndrome (PCS)?

Post-concussion syndrome, or PCS, is a constellation of symptoms that arise and persist after a concussion has been sustained.

A concussion is a mild form of traumatic brain injury (TBI) that occurs when the brain is subjected to trauma—whether struck by an object, pierced by an object, or shaken.

Though the damage incurred from a concussion is minor—and often isn’t perceived by CT or MRI scans—it can still severely impact one’s life by altering multiple aspects of one’s health and causing prolonged physical, cognitive, and behavioral or emotional symptoms.

How can a concussion be identified?

Sudden, violent movements or direct blows to the head often result in a concussion—something that can occur during a number of commonplace accidents, including:

  • Car accidents
  • Falls
  • Fights
  • Sports accidents

In the event of a concussion, a person typically experiences a momentary period of confusion, disorientation, or slowed processing. While some experience effects immediately following their head injury, many people don’t notice concussion symptoms until hours or even a couple of days later.

So if you’ve recently fallen, suffered a strike to the head, or been in a car accident that caused whiplash, it’s important to keep a close eye for developing symptoms—even if the immediate aftereffects were minimal.

Why do concussion symptoms occur?

The brain is made up of thousands and thousands of long, thin nerve fibers. If your head is hit hard enough to sustain a concussion, some of these nerves will be torn or broken.

Fortunately, your brain has many other thousands of nerve cells which are not damaged as a result of the injury and which attempt to take over the work of the damaged nerve cells. This reparation work, while healing and necessary, is demanding on the rest of your body; and it results in the compounding symptoms that often occur.

Depending on the scope of the injury and the preexisting health factors that affect your body’s ability to heal, this recovery process can resolve within a couple of weeks—as is typical of a standard concussion—or it can persist for several months. When symptoms persist in this way, beyond about two weeks, post-concussion syndrome is typically diagnosed.

What does post-concussion syndrome feel like?

Because of the highly complex and communicative nature of our brains and bodies, a head injury’s damage to brain cells rarely manifests in an isolated manner and usually induces a combination of physical, emotional or behavioral, and cognitive symptoms.

Of course, every person’s body functions differently, so the particular set of symptoms will vary; but generally a person experiences some combination of the following symptoms.

Physical symptoms may include:

  • Headache
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Sensitivity to light or noise
  • Blurred or double vision
  • Hearing loss or ringing in the ears
  • Dizziness or vertigo
  • Nausea
  • Loss of smell and/or taste
  • Appetite changes

Emotional or behavioral symptoms may include:

  • Irritability
  • Increased anxiety
  • Tendency toward overwhelm
  • Depression or lack of interest/motivation
  • Personality changes or sudden mood swings

Cognitive symptoms may include:

  • Difficulty concentrating or focusing
  • Short-term memory loss
  • Slowed reactions
  • Trouble learning new things
  • Difficulty making decisions
  • Impaired reasoning

All of these symptoms are expected and treatable, and most people can return to their normal level of functioning within six months of their accident, if not sooner. However, in order to recover fully, it’s important to give your body proper support, and the sooner you seek treatment, the better equipped your body becomes to heal itself efficiently.

Fortunately, treatment is very much available! We at The Brain and Behavior Clinic have over 35 years of experience diagnosing, treating, supporting, and advocating for people with post-concussion syndrome; and we can develop a personalized treatment plan that will not only help you heal, but help you to optimize your cognitive function, too.

Schedule a consultation with one of our physicians. And for some immediate action toward healing, try implementing some restful practices in your daily routine and self-administering these coping methods.