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Postconcussion Syndrome (Mild Traumatic Brain Injury)

Postconcussion Syndrome (Mild Traumatic Brain Injury) is a topic covered in the 5-Minute Clinical Consult.

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  • Postconcussion syndrome (PCS) is a constellation of symptoms involving physical, cognitive, and/or behavioral symptoms persisting after a concussion (mild traumatic brain injury [MTBI]) and may continue for weeks to years (1).
  • It is unclear when concussive symptoms become postconcussive syndrome. A recent consensus defines persistent symptoms as lasting >10 to 14 days in adults and 4 weeks in children (2).
  • Symptoms of PCS include (1)
    • Cognitive
      • Poor focus
      • Poor organization
      • Diminished academic/intellectual performance
      • Slowed response time
    • Physical
      • Headache
      • Nausea
      • Visual changes
      • Light and noise sensitivity
      • Tinnitus
      • Dizziness and balance problems
      • Fatigue and sleep disturbance
    • Behavioral
      • Depression
      • Irritability/emotional lability
      • Apathy
      • Increased sensitivity to alcohol
  • Diagnosis is based on history and clinical symptoms.



The reported range of MTBI patients who develop PCS varies between 5% and 80%.

  • This is due to difficulty differentiating postconcussion symptoms from PCS.
  • 80–90% of concussion victims recover from postconcussion symptoms within 7 to 10 days, slightly longer in children/adolescents (2). A diagnosis of PCS is generally made in those patients whose concussive symptoms persist beyond the usual course.

Predominant sex: female > male. Female gender is not universally considered a risk factor.

Etiology and Pathophysiology

  • Controversial; exact mechanism(s) unknown
  • Microscopic axonal injury from shearing forces leads to inflammation causing secondary brain injury.
  • Conflicting data on structural brain damage and correlation of imaging with physical symptoms (1,3,4)
  • Because the pathophysiology of PCS is not well understood and because of symptom overlap with other psychiatric conditions, PCS remains a difficult condition to diagnose and to manage.
    • Only some with MTBI develop PCS; it is unclear what causes PCS symptoms to persist (4).
    • Psychiatric factors are commonly associated with, and may play a role in, the development of PCS. It can be challenging to differentiate pure psychiatric dysfunction from PCS (1,4).
    • Neuropsychiatry evaluation help differentiate PCS from other behavioral disorders.
    • Patient reported high symptom burden following MTBI is associated with increased risk of PCS (5)[B].

Risk Factors

  • Strongest predictor is severity of initial symptoms (2).
  • Retrograde amnesia, migraine, self-reported cognitive decline, insomnia, noise and light sensitivity developing or worsening after MTBI (1,3)
  • Preexisting psychiatric disease including depression, anxiety, personality disorder, and posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Preexisting expectation of poor outcomes following MTBI (1,3)
  • Nonsport concussion/MTBI
  • Unclear if previous history of concussion(s) is a risk factor for PCS
  • Low socioeconomic status
  • Loss of consciousness not predictive of PCS

General Prevention

  • Education of players, coaches, parents, and athletic trainers about concussion, PCS, and appropriate safety rules
  • Head injury precautions are advised. Evidence is lacking that these decrease incidence of MTBI/PCS.
  • Screening and intervention for anxiety and depression

Commonly Associated Conditions

  • PTSD
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Personality disorders (namely, compulsive, histrionic, and narcissistic)
  • ADHD

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Stephens, Mark B., et al., editors. "Postconcussion Syndrome (Mild Traumatic Brain Injury)." 5-Minute Clinical Consult, 27th ed., Wolters Kluwer, 2019. Medicine Central, im.unboundmedicine.com/medicine/view/5-Minute-Clinical-Consult/816942/all/Postconcussion_Syndrome__Mild_Traumatic_Brain_Injury_.
Postconcussion Syndrome (Mild Traumatic Brain Injury). In: Stephens MB, Golding J, Baldor RA, et al, eds. 5-Minute Clinical Consult. 27th ed. Wolters Kluwer; 2019. https://im.unboundmedicine.com/medicine/view/5-Minute-Clinical-Consult/816942/all/Postconcussion_Syndrome__Mild_Traumatic_Brain_Injury_. Accessed April 19, 2019.
Postconcussion Syndrome (Mild Traumatic Brain Injury). (2019). In Stephens, M. B., Golding, J., Baldor, R. A., & Domino, F. J. (Eds.), 5-Minute Clinical Consult. Available from https://im.unboundmedicine.com/medicine/view/5-Minute-Clinical-Consult/816942/all/Postconcussion_Syndrome__Mild_Traumatic_Brain_Injury_
Postconcussion Syndrome (Mild Traumatic Brain Injury) [Internet]. In: Stephens MB, Golding J, Baldor RA, Domino FJ, editors. 5-Minute Clinical Consult. Wolters Kluwer; 2019. [cited 2019 April 19]. Available from: https://im.unboundmedicine.com/medicine/view/5-Minute-Clinical-Consult/816942/all/Postconcussion_Syndrome__Mild_Traumatic_Brain_Injury_.
* Article titles in AMA citation format should be in sentence-case
TY - ELEC T1 - Postconcussion Syndrome (Mild Traumatic Brain Injury) ID - 816942 ED - Stephens,Mark B, ED - Golding,Jeremy, ED - Baldor,Robert A, ED - Domino,Frank J, BT - 5-Minute Clinical Consult, Updating UR - https://im.unboundmedicine.com/medicine/view/5-Minute-Clinical-Consult/816942/all/Postconcussion_Syndrome__Mild_Traumatic_Brain_Injury_ PB - Wolters Kluwer ET - 27 DB - Medicine Central DP - Unbound Medicine ER -