Postconcussion syndrome: demographics and predictors in 221 patients

J Neurosurg. 2016 Nov;125(5):1206-1216. doi: 10.3171/2015.6.JNS15664. Epub 2016 Feb 26.


OBJECTIVE The objective of this study was to determine the demographics and predictors of postconcussion syndrome (PCS) in a large series of patients using a novel definition of PCS. METHODS The authors conducted a retrospective cohort study of 284 consecutive concussed patients, 221 of whom had PCS on the basis of at least 3 symptoms persisting at least 1 month. This definition of PCS was uniformly employed and is unique in accepting an expanded list of symptoms, in shortening the postconcussion interval to 1 month from 3 months, and in excluding those with focal injuries such as hemorrhages and contusions. RESULTS The 221 cases showed considerable heterogeneity in clinical features of PCS. They averaged 3.3 concussions, with a range of 0 to 12 or more concussions, and 62.4% occurred during sports and recreation. The median duration of PCS was 7 months at the time of examination, with 11.8% lasting more than 2 years, and 23.1% with PCS had only 1 concussion. The average patient age was 27 years (range 10-74 years). The average number of persistent symptoms was 8.1; 26.2% had a previous psychiatric condition, attention-deficit disorder/attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, a learning disability, or previous migraine headaches. The prevalence of arachnoid cysts and Chiari malformation in PCS exceeded the general population. Additionally, involvement in litigation, presence of extracranial injuries, amnesia and/or loss of consciousness, and female sex were predictive of reporting a high number of symptoms. A prior history of psychiatric conditions or migraines, cause of injury, number of previous concussions, and age did not significantly predict symptom number. Only the number of symptoms reported predicted the duration of PCS. To predict the number of symptoms for those who fulfilled PCS criteria according to the International Classification of Diseases, 10th Revision (ICD-10), and the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 4th Edition (DSM-IV), the number of previous concussions was significant. CONCLUSIONS PCS is commonly associated with multiple concussions, but 23.1% in the present series occurred after only 1 concussion. Most patients with PCS had multiple symptoms persisting for months or years. The median duration of PCS was 7 months, with a range up to 26 years. In only 11.3%, the PCS had ended at the time of consultation. Not all predictors commonly cited in the literature align with the findings in this study. This is likely due to differences in the definitions of PCS used in research. These results suggest that the use of ICD-10 and DSM-IV to diagnose PCS may be biased toward those who are vulnerable to concussions or with more severe forms of PCS. It is thus important to redefine PCS based on evidence-based medicine.

Keywords: ADD = attention-deficit disorder; ADHD = attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder; CTE = chronic traumatic encephalopathy; DSM-IV = Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 4th Edition; GCS = Glasgow Coma Scale; ICD-10 = International Classification of Diseases, 10th Revision; LOC = loss of consciousness; PCS = postconcussion syndrome; PTSD = posttraumatic stress disorder; TBI = traumatic brain injury; chronic traumatic encephalopathy; concussion; postconcussion syndrome; traumatic brain injury.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Child
  • Cohort Studies
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Post-Concussion Syndrome / diagnosis*
  • Post-Concussion Syndrome / epidemiology
  • Prognosis
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Young Adult