What is PCS? And why do I care?

ART1WESTBOROUGH, MA  September 28, 2016 Postconcussion Syndrome is a complex disorder that can stymie many physicians because of the abundance of both physical and emotional symptoms. There are about 3-25 percent of patients who are diagnosed with concussion that go on to have a longer duration of symptoms – sometimes a year or more . That is quite a discrepancy in the prevalence of cases.
The PCS cases with whom I have worked having prolonged symptoms from concussion often experience both physical and emotional symptoms that can be debilitating. “Post-concussion syndrome is a complex disorder in which various symptoms — such as headaches, light and sound sensitivity and dizziness — last for weeks and sometimes months after the injury that caused the concussion.” (Mayo Clinic)  If someone you know suffers from PCS the effects to a family system can be dramatic especially when the head of household can no longer go to work.  Whether it is a professional, elite student athlete or a salesman injured in a car crash there is an experience of stigma associated with the invisible injury of concussion. The emotional impact of this marginalizes patients often leaving them feeling alone and frustrated.
Sometimes vague physical symptoms create an overwhelming emotional response that comes from the lingering resentment patients feel when seeing doctors who seem unable to understand their needs. Sometimes the outward appearance of lingering concussion may appear to be solely a psychiatric condition rather than someone who is recovering from a brain injury. Some physicians unfairly believe prolonged symptoms may be linked to ongoing litigation.
In a blog published in December 2015, Concussion and PCS was discussed in some detail.  “Like concussion, it is an invisible injury that renders many people unable to work. Headaches, neck pain, fatigue, visual changes, irritability, sensitivity to sound and light, depression, and poor sleep hygiene were common” (Sefton, 2015).  The long-term impact negatively impacts both physical and emotional functioning by slowly increasing autonomic activation and impact sleep, appetite, and emotional well-being.
When I am working with someone who has been symptomatic for months or more it is quite apparent how frustrated they can become. It is important for the patient to feel they are believed in the story they are telling. Their symptoms are real and in many cases life changing.  I realize that they have never received the proper education from experts to understand their concussion and its potential recovery course.  Someone with prolonged PCS can be difficult to work with because symptoms can be refractory to traditional therapy. The last thing they may want is to sit with a neuropsychologist and retrace their steps all the way back to the beginning of their symptoms or personal injury. A multidisciplinary approach is best for all involved and should include physical exertion that does not exacerbate existing symptoms (Makdissi, et al, 2016).
Meanwhile, there is a growing body of literature that links prolonged symptoms of concussion to major life stress that can imprint psychologically – like PTSD when the timing is right.
References
Mayo Clinic Website, http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/post-concussion-syndrome/basics/definition/con-20032705. Taken September 28, 2016
Sefton, M. Concussion: physician’s once espoused a link to unresolved litigation. Blog post: https://wordpress.com/stats/insights/concussionassessment.wordpress.com Taken October 1, 2016.
Makdissi, et al. The difficult concussion patient. Br J Sports Med. 2013 Apr;47(5):308-13. doi: 10.1136/bjsports-2013-092255 Taken October 1, 2016
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