In the first days after a minor head injury it is normal to experience some dizziness, poor concentration and other symptoms listed here. Usually, these symptoms settle within days, weeks, or at most several months.
If symptoms persist longer than would be expected from the nature of the injury, this is called post concussion syndrome.
They often get WORSE over time whereas symptoms directly related to a head injury are worst at the beginning and slowly improve.
So What Causes Post Concussion Syndrome?
What happens is that after experiencing an injury, ‘volume knobs’ in pathways in the nervous system become ‘turned up’. These include pain pathways, as well as sensory pathways involved in symptoms like dizziness. The brain is usually very good at filtering out sensations so that we can concentrate on the ones that we need. After a bang on the head this process can go wrong for a variety of reasons.
Normally those ‘volume knobs’ get turned down again and the ‘brain filters’ are restored as you slowly recover but in post-concussion syndrome they stay turned up, or even become increased further over time.
If you add in to this mix, the shock of having a blow to the head and the worry that there is some form of brain damage, it’s not hard to see how this could make things worse.
Is Post Concussion Syndrome Caused by Brain Damage then?
In a nutshell, no.
It is TRIGGERED by a blow to the head, during which there may have been some minimal damage to the brain. But don’t forget that adults lose brain cells every day.
By the time 8 – 12 weeks have gone by its very unlikely that any of the symptoms that are left are still caused by brain damage. Instead they arise because of abnormal nervous system and brain functioning.
Post Concussion Syndrome or Post Traumatic Syndrome?
In one of the most remarkable pieces of research on this topic in recent years a group in Australia showed that the proportion of people seen in hospital with a minor blow to the head who developed post concussion symptoms was exactly the same as people seen in hospital with a blow to their leg, arm or other part of the body excluding the head.
The evidence suggests that there is a post traumatic syndrome in which people develop symptoms. It is further evidence that ‘brain damage’ which is what people are understandably normally worried about – is not the cause of the problem.