Post-concussion syndrome is a complex disorder in which a variable 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 include:
Headaches that occur after a concussion can vary and may feel like tension-type headaches or migraine headaches. Most, however, are tension-type headaches, which may be associated with 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.
When to see a doctor
Some experts believe post-concussion symptoms are caused by structural damage to the brain or disruption of neurotransmitter systems, resulting from the impact that caused the concussion. Others believe post-concussion symptoms are related to psychological factors, especially since the most common symptoms — headache, dizziness and sleep problems — are similar to those often experienced by people diagnosed with depression, anxiety or post-traumatic stress disorder. In many cases, both physiological effects of brain trauma and emotional reactions to these effects play a role in the development of symptoms.
Researchers haven't determined why some people who've had concussions develop persistent post-concussion symptoms while others do not. No proven correlation between the severity of the injury and the likelihood of developing persistent post-concussion symptoms exists.
Risk factors for developing post-concussion syndrome include:
Preparing for your appointment
An emergency room doctor often makes the initial diagnosis of a concussion. Once discharged, you may seek care from your family doctor or general practitioner. However, he or she may refer you to a doctor who specializes in brain and nervous system disorders (neurologist) or a brain rehabilitation specialist (physiatrist).
If you are referred to a specialist, it's a good idea to be well prepared for your appointment. Here's some information to help you get ready for your appointment, and know what to expect from your doctor.
What you can do
Preparing a list of questions can help you make the most of your appointment. List your questions from most important to least important in case time runs out. For post-concussion syndrome, some basic questions to ask your doctor include:
In addition to the questions that you've prepared to ask your doctor, don't hesitate to ask questions during your appointment.
What to expect from your doctor
Tests and diagnosis
No single test will prove you have post-concussion syndrome. Your doctor may want to order a scan of your brain to check for other potential problems that could be causing your symptoms. Computed tomography (CT) imaging is generally the preferred test for detecting brain abnormalities.
If you're experiencing a lot of dizziness, you may be referred to a doctor who specializes in ear, nose and throat complaints. A referral to a psychologist or psychiatrist may be in order if your symptoms include anxiety or depression, or if you're having problems with memory or problem solving.
Treatments and drugs
There is no specific treatment for post-concussion syndrome. Instead, your doctor will treat the individual symptoms you're experiencing. The types of symptoms and their frequency are unique to each person.
Keep in mind that the overuse of over-the-counter and prescription pain relievers may contribute to persistent post-concussion headaches.
Memory and thinking problems
Certain forms of cognitive therapy may be helpful, including focused rehabilitation that provides training in how to use a pocket calendar, electronic organizer or other techniques to work around memory deficits and attention skills. Relaxation therapy may also help.
Depression and anxiety
The only known way to prevent post-concussion syndrome is to avoid the head injury in the first place.
Avoiding head injuries
Last Updated: 2011-09-29
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