Persistent post-concussive symptoms — also called post-concussion syndrome — occurs when symptoms of a mild traumatic brain injury last longer than expected after an injury. These symptoms may include headaches, dizziness, and problems with concentration and memory. They can last weeks to months.
A mild traumatic brain injury is known as a concussion. It could happen as a result of a fall or auto accident, while playing contact sports, or from violent shaking and movement of the head or body.
You don't have to lose consciousness to get a concussion or experience persistent post-concussive symptoms. In fact, the risk of developing the symptoms doesn't appear to be linked with the severity of the injury.
In most people, symptoms appear within the first 7 to 10 days and go away within three months. But sometimes they can last for a year or more. The goal of treatment is to manage symptoms.
Persistent post-concussive symptoms include:
- Trouble falling asleep or sleeping too much.
- Loss of concentration and memory.
- Ringing in the ears.
- Blurry vision.
- Noise and light sensitivity.
- Rarely, decreases in taste and smell.
Headaches after a concussion most often feel like tension-type headaches. These may be related to a neck injury that happened at the same time as the head injury. Or the headaches may feel like migraines.
When to see a doctor
See a health care provider if you experience a head injury that causes confusion or memory loss — even if you remained conscious.
If a concussion occurs while playing a sport, don't go back into the game. Seek medical attention so that the injury doesn't become worse.
More research is needed to better understand how and why persistent post-concussive symptoms happen after some injuries and not others.
Persistent post-concussive symptoms may develop as a result of the impact of the injury itself. Or persistent post-concussive symptoms may trigger other conditions such as migraines. Symptoms also may be associated with other factors, including trouble with sleep, dizziness, stress and problems with mental health. Your health care provider will work with you to understand the cause of the current symptoms and the treatments that are recommended.
Risk factors for developing persistent post-concussive symptoms include:
- Age. Studies that increasing age is a risk factor for persistent post-concussive symptoms.
- Sex. Women are more likely to be diagnosed with persistent post-concussive symptoms, but this may be because women are generally more likely to seek medical care.
The only known way to prevent persistent post-concussive symptoms is to avoid a 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.
- 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 and snowboarding. Also wear a helmet while playing football, batting or running the bases in softball or baseball, skateboarding, or horseback riding. Wear a helmet when riding a motorcycle.
- Take action at home to prevent falls, such as removing small area rugs, improving lighting and installing handrails.