Could Long-term Problem After Concussion Really Be PTSD?

Eileen Bailey Health Guide
  • After a concussion, some patients exhibit what is known as post-concussion syndrome (PCS) for several months. This includes symptoms such as difficulty thinking clearly, difficulty concentrating, confusion, dizziness, sensitivity to light and noise, irritability, sadness, sleep problems and headache. It turns out, according to a recent study, that some patients who suffered an injury, but not a brain injury, had similar symptoms several months after their injury. Based on this, researchers believe that what is currently labeled PCS is really post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

    The study, completed in France and published in JAMA Psychiatry, looked at over 1,300 patients who had received treatment at an emergency room for an injury - 534 with a head injury and 827 with a non-head injury. Researchers were specifically interested in what symptoms were present three months after the injury. According to the results:

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    • 21.2 percent of those with a head injury met the criteria for PCS
    • 8.8 percent met the criteria for PTSD
    • 16.3 percent of those with non-head injuries met the criteria for  PCS
    • 2.2 percent met the criteria for PTSD

    The number of patients with a non-head injury that met the criteria for PCS was lower, but not significantly, than those with a head injury. The researchers believe this shows that these symptoms were a result of hyperarousal from PTSD, not PCS. Because symptoms vary from patient to patient, treatment of PCS is symptomatic, for example, someone with a headache might be treated with pain medication, someone with trouble sleeping might be given sleep-aid medication. For cognitive difficulties, rest and lowering stress levels could be recommended.

    The researchers believe that PCS should be reclassified and thought of as part of PTSD. This could have implications for those with head and non-head injuries. Doctors should be more aware of the potential for PTSD after any injury and suggestions and advice for treatment can be tailored around addressing and treating PTSD symptoms in both those with head injuries and those with other injuries.

    Symptoms of PTSD can change and increase over time. It is important to pay attention to early warning signs and monitor the symptoms to promote recovery from PTSD. Early intervention and treatment may help to reduce the symptoms and allow patients to lessen the symptoms and reduce the chances of PTSD being a chronic condition.


    “Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder: The Management of PTSD in Adults and Children in Primary and Secondary Care,” 2005, Gaskell, National Collaborating Centre for Mental Health (UK)

    “Prevention of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder by Early Treatment,” 2012. Arieh Y. Shalev et al, JAMA Psychiatry

    “PTSD Could Explain Some Post-Concussion Symptoms,” 2014, July 16, Staff Writer, CBC News


Published On: July 21, 2014