Post-concussion syndrome

Post-concussion syndrome (PCS) describes a set of symptoms that sometimes happen after a concussion. They can last for several weeks or months.

The exact cause of PCS is not known. One theory is that PCS is the result of a chemical imbalance in the brain. This imbalance is triggered by the injury that caused the initial concussion. Another theory suggests PCS may be caused by damage to nerve cells in the brain.

Symptoms of post-concussion syndrome

The symptoms of PCS can be physical, psychological or cognitive (affecting your ability to think). You may have more than one type of symptom at a time, but are unlikely to have them all.

Physical symptoms

  • persistent headaches that can be mild or severe, but last a long time
  • dizziness
  • nausea (feeling sick)
  • sensitivity to bright lights
  • sensitivity to loud noises
  • tinnitus (ringing in the ears)
  • double or blurred vision
  • fatigue (tiredness)
  • changed or reduced sense of smell and taste

Psychological symptoms

  • depression
  • anxiety
  • irritability
  • lack of energy
  • loss of interest in activities you normally enjoy
  • problems sleeping
  • changes in appetite
  • sudden outbursts of emotion, like crying for no clear reason

Cognitive symptoms

  • decreased concentration
  • forgetfulness
  • difficulty remembering things or learning new information
  • difficulties with reasoning (working out problems)

Your symptoms may make it difficult to work and look after yourself.

Diagnosing post-concussion syndrome

PCS does not show on any scans or blood tests. This means that your healthcare professional will diagnose PCS using:

  • your medical history (that you’ve experienced a recent head injury)
  • the types symptoms you’re experiencing
  • when your symptoms began (before or after a head injury)

Managing post-concussion syndrome

There’s no specific treatment that cures PCS. But there are a lot of strategies that can help. For most patients the symptoms gradually improve over time.

Pacing strategies are often used to help manage PCS. These are strategies that allow you to gradually increase your activities. They can help you return to work and leisure activities.

Some activities can make PCS symptoms worse. You should avoid overstimulating activities that make your symptoms worse. These might include:

  • late nights
  • alcohol
  • crowded rooms
  • conversations with multiple people at once
  • vigorous exercises
  • prolonged screen time

You may be prescribed antidepressants or anti-migraine medication. This doesn’t mean your healthcare professional thinks you’re depressed or experiencing migraines. These medicines work by reducing abnormal nerve activity in the brain. This means they can help with the physical symptoms of PCS.

If you’re experiencing psychological symptoms, antidepressants can also help with this. Your healthcare professional may also suggest talking treatments (like psychological therapy).

Last updated:
16 May 2024