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Post-concussion syndrome

Post-concussion syndrome is a complex disorder in which various 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.

Symptoms Causes Risk factors Prevention

Post-concussion symptoms include:

  • Headaches
  • Dizziness
  • Fatigue
  • Irritability
  • Anxiety
  • Insomnia
  • Loss of concentration and memory
  • Noise and light sensitivity

Headaches that occur after a concussion can vary and may feel like tension-type headaches or migraines. 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

See a doctor if you experience a head injury severe enough to cause confusion or amnesia — even if you never lost consciousness.

If a concussion occurs while you're playing a sport, don't go back in the game. Seek medical attention so that you don't risk worsening your injury.

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:

  • Age. Studies have found increasing age to be a risk factor for post-concussion syndrome.
  • Sex. Women are more likely to be diagnosed with post-concussion syndrome, but this may be because women are generally more likely to seek medical care.
  • Trauma. Concussions resulting from car collisions, falls, assaults and sports injuries are commonly associated with post-concussion syndrome.

The only known way to prevent post-concussion syndrome is to avoid the head injury in the first place.

Avoiding head injuries

Although you can't prepare for every potential situation, here are some tips for avoiding common causes of head injuries:

  • Fasten your seat belt whenever you're traveling in a car, and be sure children are in age-appropriate safety seats. Children under 13 are safest riding in the back seat, especially if your car has air bags.
  • Use helmets whenever you or your children are bicycling, roller-skating, in-line skating, ice-skating, skiing, snowboarding, playing football, batting or running the bases in softball or baseball, skateboarding, or horseback riding. Wear a helmet when riding a motorcycle.
  • Take steps around the house to prevent falls, such as removing small area rugs, improving lighting and installing handrails.
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