Living with concussion

Post-concussion syndrome

The effects of a minor head injury can be anything but minor to the person concerned. They can include nausea, headaches, dizziness, impaired concentration, memory problems, extreme tiredness, intolerance to light and noise, and can lead to anxiety and depression. When problems like this persist, they are often called post-concussion syndrome.

Symptoms of post-concussion syndrome

Headaches Irritability
Feelings of dizziness Restlessness
Nausea Impulsivity and self-control problems
Sensitivity to light Difficulties with concentration
Sensitivity to noise Feeling depressed, tearful, anxious
Sleep disturbance Fatigue
Memory problems Difficulties thinking and problem-solving

In most cases the symptoms of post-concussion syndrome will resolve themselves within two weeks. However, in some cases they may persist much longer. Try not to rush back into normal activities as this may delay recovery. If you still have any symptoms of concussion after two weeks we suggest you see your GP and take our 'Minor head injury discharge advice' factsheet with you. It may be possible to seek referral to a head injury specialist such as a neurologist or neuropsychologist.

A common problem is that either no scans were done at the time of the accident, or subsequent scans show no damage. This frequently gives rise to the impression that there is nothing medically wrong. The persistent problems of post-concussion syndrome can be misunderstood by GPs, sometimes being considered as almost hypochondria on the part of the patient.

In some cases where the symptoms of concussion persist for months a psychological element such as depression can come into play. While this may make existing conditions even more difficult to live with, it is not on the whole true or helpful to say that 'it is all in the mind'. A second opinion should be sought from a neurologist or neuropsychologist.

Managing concussion

It is important that relatives and employers are warned about the possible effects of a minor head injury, and for plans to be made accordingly. These might include not rushing to return to work, keeping stress to a minimum in the short term, and abstaining from alcohol.

One study showed that almost one third of people with a minor head injury were not working full-time three months after receiving the injury, although other studies have been much more optimistic. Difficulties are certainly made much worse if the person has a mentally demanding job where there is a low margin for error.

Recovery and further information

The general conclusion seems to be that the vast majority of people who experience a minor head injury make a full recovery, usually after 3-4 months. However there is a very small sub-group whose recovery is not so good.

See our booklet Minor head injury and concussion (PDF) for more details, and our factsheet Minor head injury discharge advice (PDF) for important information after sustaining a head injury.