Post-Concussion Syndrome, or PCS, is the persistence of concussion symptoms beyond the normal course of recovery. The majority of concussion symptoms will resolve within about two weeks, and with proper recovery almost all dissipate within a month. In cases where symptoms last longer than one or two months, doctors may diagnose Post-Concussion Syndrome. Patients with PCS can experience concussion-like symptoms at rest or in response to too much physical or cognitive activity, often forcing them to withdraw from their usual physical, professional, and social lives.
Is PCS normal?
Post-concussion syndrome is a relatively common complication of concussion recovery. In high school athletes diagnosed with concussion, researchers have estimated approximately 10% will develop PCS, and other estimates of other age groups and populations range from 5 to 30%. While most patients will not suffer from PCS, it is important for PCS sufferers to know they are not alone.
Risk Factors: Why do some people suffer from PCS, but others don’t?
While it is difficult to predict who will suffer from PCS, research provides some clues as to who may be at more risk. Demographic variables play a role, with women and older adults being at greater risk than men and younger individuals. In addition to demographic variables, a person’s concussion and medical history can affect PCS risk. Below are risk factors that appear to increase a person's odds of developing PCS.
|Demographic Risk Factors||Medical Risk Factors||Injury Risk Factors|
|Female sex||History of previous concussion||Severe impact|
|Advanced age||History of prolonged recovery||Double impact|
|History of mood, anxiety, learning or seizure disorder||Duration of initial symptoms|
|History of migraine headaches||Major visual symptoms soon after injury|
Interrupting a life: How serious is Post-Concussion Syndrome?
Post-Concussion Syndrome can be extremely disruptive to a patient’s life. In addition to having to constantly manage concussion symptoms, which can intensify with normal activity, long-term PCS patients often have to restructure their lives to avoid activities and situations that cause symptoms to worsen. For children, this can mean extended absences from school and removal from sports and extra-curricular activities. In severe cases, it may be necessary for a child to repeat a grade. In adults, PCS can seriously impact a patients’ personal and professional life, interfere with family life, as well as the ability to focus, communicate, and be effective at work.
Are there any treatments for Post-Concussion Syndrome?
Management of PCS is most often a matter of resting and allowing the brain’s natural recovery process the time to heal the damage caused by a concussion. After a period of rest, doctors may prescribe active therapies to help alleviate symptoms of PCS, but there is no single treatment that is effective in all cases.
PCS therapies identify the worst symptoms for an individual patient, and target them with specific therapies to reduce the symptoms or eliminate their cause. These therapies are especially helpful in cases where one or two symptoms simply won't go away.
How can I help someone suffering from PCS?
Patients with PCS often report feeling isolated by their illness, and it is difficult for parents, friends and any outside observers to see how disruptive PCS symptoms can be. This can often lead to observers dismissing or minimizing a patient’s symptoms, which hurts. They hear, "Are you still hurt?" or "Are you sure you're not faking to get out of school?" PCS is an invisible injury, and many patients often wish they had a more visible injury requiring crutches or a cast so that they would receive more respect.
Family and friends of a patient suffering from PCS can help by recognizing that PCS is a serious condition, and being understanding and supportive if the patient needs to socialize differently. A person with PCS may no longer be able to handle the noise or crowds of a party, but they still need to spend social time with friends, so offer a movie night or just pay them a visit and talk. Other situations may bring on more severe symptoms, so expect someone with PCS to sometimes remove themselves from a loud, bright, crowded, or otherwise over-stimulating situation. Instead of questioning if their headache is really that bad, a supportive friend will offer encouragement and remind their friend that they’ll be ready to continue their activity when they’re feeling better.
Learn more about what PCS is like by checking out our Personal Stories page, where sufferers of Post-Concussion Syndrome tell their recovery stories.
Is Post-Concussion Syndrome the same thing as CTE?
No. Post-Concussion Syndrome is completely separate from other long-term consequences of brain trauma, such as Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE). While symptoms may appear similar, the onset of PCS symptoms by definition follow a concussion. PCS does get better over time and in most cases eventually resolves completely. It is not progressive, and it is not degenerative. You will feel better, especially if you work with an experienced medical professional! Click here to learn more about CTE.