The leading cause of traumatic brain injury (TBI) in the United States is motor vehicle accidents and falls — and that is consistent with our experience representing clients who have suffered a TBI. Severe traumatic brain injuries involving hemmorhage (bleeding) or encephalopathy can cause catastrophic, permanent injury or death. What about less obvious forms of TBI, such as a concussion?
Researchers are discovering that any TBI — even mild TBI or concussion — can cause lasting effects. Indeed, a new study published in the Journal of Neurotrauma, “Longitudinal Study of Postconcussion Syndrome: Not Everyone Recovers,” examined the prevalence of post-concussion syndrome and the significant impact the syndrome can have on a person’s wellbeing and quality of life.
Post-concussion syndrome can include a variety of symptoms that last for weeks, months or years after the initial concussion. It does not appear the severity of the concussion is associated with the risk of developing the syndrome. The study also indicated that if recovery has not occurred within the first three years, symptoms may be permanent.
How Common is Post-Concussion Syndrome?
Post-concussion syndrome is a lot more common that once believed. According to the National Institute of Health, about ten percent of people develop the syndrome in the weeks following a concussion. About 50 percent of those who develop post-concussion syndrome still have symptoms for up to three months. But even more startling is up to 15 percent of people still suffer the effects of a concussion a year or later.
In the past, a concussion was considered a minor injury without lasting symptoms or effects. New information and studies, such as the one published in the Journal of Neurotrauma, paint a different picture. Any traumatic brain injury can have lasting effects.
An important finding in the Journal of Neurotrauma study was that no patient recovered who had PCS lasting 3 years or longer. In other words, those postconcussion symptoms were permanent.
Why some people develop the syndrome after a mild traumatic brain injury is not entirely understood. One theory is structural changes occur in the brain after the impact from the concussion that alters neurotransmitters systems. Whatever the cause, the condition can easily be overlooked by doctors since symptoms can be vague.
Symptoms of Post-Concussion Syndrome
Post-concussion syndrome is often complex and can include a variety of symptoms, including:
- Difficulty Concentrating
- Memory loss
- Dizziness or Vertigo
- Impaired reasoning or comprehension
- Sleep disturbance
Below is the chart of post-concussion symptoms experienced by the patients included in the recent study mentioned above:
Some people also experience personality changes. The changes may be sublet or easily noticeable. For example, someone who is usually calm may become angry easily. Changes to personality can be especially upsetting.
The severity of symptoms can also vary. But for some people, symptoms can become so severe that they prevent the person from working or taking care of their responsibilities. In some instances, the symptoms may start weeks or months after the initial concussion, which means doctors do not always connect it to the head injury.
Treatment for Post-Concussion Syndrome
Diagnosis is often made based on a review of medical history and symptoms. There is not one specific diagnostic test that identifies post-concussion syndrome. Although a CT scan may be performed to look for abnormalities, changes are often not found.
Since symptoms are varied and unique to the individual, there is no one specific treatment for the syndrome. Instead, once a diagnosis is made, treatment is aimed at decreasing symptoms.
Treatment may include medication to decrease both physical and emotional symptoms. Different medications may be used, such as amitriptyline, which treats some of the symptoms associated with post-concussion syndrome, such as headache. Other medications to treat emotional issues, such as anxiety, may also be useful.
There are not medications to treat certain symptoms associated with reasoning difficulties or memory problems. But cognitive behavior therapy may help in some cases. People who have depression related to post-concussion syndrome may also benefit from medication and psychotherapy.
Lasting Effects of Post-Concussion Syndrome are Costly
Since post-concussion syndrome can last months or even years, treatment can be expensive. Also, lost wages associated with post-concussion syndrome can be significant. Making things even more difficult is the fact that cases involving post-concussion syndrome can be complex. Establishing a link between the original injury and the syndrome may be challenging at times. But our top-notch attorneys may be able to help.