PCS vs. PCD

Click the image to download the guidelines (156 pages – PDF)

I came across something interesting the other day when I was looking at the PDF Guidelines for Mild Traumatic Brain Injury (MTBI) and Persistent Symptoms from the Ontario Neurotrauma Foundation, namely, the difference between Post-Concussion Syndrome and Post-Concussive Disorder.

Apparently, they’re not the same. I had thought they were interchangeable, but I guess they’re not.

Diagnostic Criteria for Post-Concussion Syndrome (ICD-10)
A. History of head trauma with loss of consciousness preceding symptom onset by a maximum of 4 weeks.
B. Symptoms in 3 or more of the following symptom categories:

  • Headache, dizziness, malaise, fatigue, noise tolerance
  • Irritability, depression, anxiety, emotional lability
  • Subjective concentration, memory, or intellectual difficulties without neuropsychological evidence of marked impairment
  • Insomnia
  • Reduced alcohol tolerance
  • Preoccupation with above symptoms and fear of brain damage with hypochondriacal concern and adoption of sick role

Diagnostic Criteria for Postconcussional Disorder (DSM-IV)
A. A history of head trauma that has caused significant cerebral concussion.
Note: The manifestations of concussion include loss of consciousness, posttraumatic amnesia, and less commonly, posttraumatic onset of seizures. The specific method of defining this criterion needs to be established by further research.
B. Evidence from neuropsychological testing or quantified cognitive assessment of difficulty in attention (concentrating, shifting focus of attention, performing simultaneous cognitive tasks) or memory (learning or recall of information).
C. Three (or more) of the following occur shortly after the trauma and last at least 3 months:

  1. Becoming fatigued easily
  2. Disordered sleep
  3. Headache
  4. Vertigo or dizziness
  5. Irritability or aggression on little or no provocation
  6. Anxiety, depression, or affective instability
  7. Changes in personality (e.g., social or sexual inappropriateness)
  8. Apathy or lack of spontaneity

D. The symptoms in criteria B and C have their onset following head trauma or else represent a substantial worsening of preexisting symptoms.
E. The disturbance causes significant impairment in social or occupational functioning and represents a significant decline from a previous level of functioning. In school-age children, the impairment may be manifested by a significant worsening in school or academic performance dating from the trauma.
F. The symptoms do not meet criteria for Dementia Due to Head Trauma and are not better accounted for by another mental disorder (e.g., Amnestic Disorder Due to Head Trauma, Personality Change Due to Head Trauma).

PCS is apparently a situation where you have head trauma with loss of consciousness (I think the DSM-IV needs to be updated, since concussion does NOT require loss of consciousness, and that fact has confused a lot of people and caused them to take concussion less seriously, when there was not LOC). And PCS is about “subjective” difficulties that haven’t been demonstrated with neuropsychological evidence.

Now, a couple of red flags go up for me — and it has more to do with the DSM, which I have some problems with anyway, than it does with the Guidelines. First, that loss of consciousness requirement. That can lead a lot of people down a flawed path. The other thing is the “subjective” part, which makes it sound a little bit like it’s all in your head? Well, technically, it is, but there seems to be a certain psychological aspect to it — then again, it is the DSM, so there you go.

Now, on to Post-Concussional Disorder… It requires a history of head trauma that has caused “significant cerebral concussion”. So, who decides what constitutes “significant”? Loss of consciousness, post-traumatic amnesia, seizures… What if you get totally messed up, but none of those things happened to you?

I think this is one of the first flaws in this set of guidelines — it relies on the DSM off the bat to psychologically define what are actually complex conditions that have very physiological roots and causes and issues. Plus, that thing about loss of consciousness… That’s troubling, as this may lead doctors astray — yet again — in to the weeds of gauging “how serious was your concussion” based on the injury itself, rather than the complex cascade of events and conditions after the actual injury.

But later on page 7, they go on to say

There has been debate as to whether persistent symptoms are best attributed to biological or psychological factors. It now appears that a variety of interacting neuropathological and psychological contributors both underlie and maintain postconcussive symptoms. One source of controversy has been the observation that the symptoms found to persist following mTBI are not specific to this condition. They may also occur in other diagnostic groups, including those with chronic pain, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, and are observed to varying extent among healthy individuals.

So, it’s good that they’re acknowledging that there are complex contributors. And it’s good that they’re pointing out that symptoms we’ve got can also be found in other groups — though I have to wonder why it’s to be expected that a condition would have “only” certain symptoms that were all its own… I can think of a whole handful of conditions which “share” symptoms with each other, yet are not dismissed as made-up and are treated with care. Anyway, that’s another patch of weeds for another time.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again — traumatic brain injury is a continuously re-traumatizing condition that just doesn’t quit. It can linger and morph and transform both itself and you over the course of days, months, years… sometimes to the point where you don’t even recognize yourself and your life anymore.

Which is where we get into the drawbacks of a set of guidelines like this document. I’ve seen some comments by people about its limitations, and yes, I’m starting to see them now that I’m getting deeper into it. I’m only 7 pages in, after all. Initially, I was really excited that there were these kinds of guidelines, and I still do think they offer a great service, in that they attempt to speak directly to doctors and healthcare providers. In that respect, I don’t think that relying so heavily on research and clinical studies is such a bad thing. That’s what doctors pay attention to. “Anecdotal evidence” is viewed with a mix of skepticism and scorn in most medical circles I’ve encountered, and it’s only in the past ten years or so that “evidence-based medicine” has gotten much of a foothold in the mainstream. Now it seems to be quite popular, but still the clinical studies seem to be considered the gold standard against which other sources of information are measured.

So, for what it’s worse, for better or for worse, we’re stuck with clinical studies and limited research, to make our case with the medical establishment.

It’s a little bothersome.

[pause to regain composure]

But hey, at least someone is making the effort here.

And that’s a plus.

Anyway, on a personal note, my neuropsych is out of town for the next two weeks, so I’ll  have till mid-April to go it alone without someone to bounce ideas off of, and basically practice my everyday socialization chops. It’s funny, how those weekly visits serve to balance me out and keep me grounded. The times when I’ve gone it alone for a few weeks, I’ve shown up at their office a little loopy and straying back into the old territory I used to inhabit that was filled with chimeras and borderline delusions (in the loose sense — not real delusions — not yet, anyway). Somehow my neuropsych knows how to talk to me in a way that gets me to rethink my fundamental thought processes and come up with better ideas than I had when I first stopped in to see them.

I’ve always been independent to a fault, and now I find myself feeling dependent on a clinician. Ironic, that.

Anyway, it’s late and even though it’s Saturday night and I can sleep in tomorrow, I am absolutely bushed and I know it’s time to go to bed. I had a good day today. Did a lot of reading and writing and figured a few things out.

Onward.

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Author: brokenbrilliant

I am a long-term multiple (mild) Traumatic Brain Injury (mTBI or TBI) survivor who experienced assaults, falls, car accidents, sports-related injuries in the 1960s, '70s, '80s, and '90s. My last mild TBI was in 2004, but it was definitely the worst of the lot. I never received medical treatment for my injuries, some of which were sports injuries (and you have to get back in the game!), but I have been living very successfully with cognitive/behavioral (social, emotional, functional) symptoms and complications since I was a young kid. I’ve done it so well, in fact, that virtually nobody knows that I sustained those injuries… and the folks who do know, haven’t fully realized just how it’s impacted my life. It has impacted my life, however. In serious and debilitating ways. I’m coming out from behind the shields I’ve put up, in hopes of successfully addressing my own (invisible) challenges and helping others to see that sustaining a TBI is not the end of the world, and they can, in fact, live happy, fulfilled, productive lives in spite of it all.

10 thoughts on “PCS vs. PCD”

  1. syndrome implies that the person is adopting the sequelae in extreme of a tbi

    disorder implies they have it

    icd’s a billing code = post concussion syndrome is billed as a psychological problem

    post concussion disorder is a physiological syndrome

    I deplore this as it encourages people to not believe that someone has an injury.

    Like

  2. You know, the more I think about it, the more I realize what this means — and I really agree with you.

    I deplore this, too, for all the reasons you mentioned.

    Time to write something about this.

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  3. I was maybe thinking of circulating the guidelines to varying neuro specialists here in NZ, but I have decided & also advised not to. Having read only a few pages & also reading your thoughts & taking on board my lawyer & my partners (who have speed read the whole document) comments. We all seem to be in the same camp. The document overall gives a false representation of brain trauma & the real effects it has on a persons life – too much clinical research used & not enough real/actual evidence. At my tribunal hearing, it came down to whether a neuro psychologists diagnosis of ‘there is no such thing as long term effects of an mtbi’ over rules a neuro psychiatrist who believes there is substance to mtbi & long term effects. I have no idea how my case will go, I can only hope the adjudicator believes the medically trained psychiatrist.

    Thank you for sharing your insight on this document.

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  4. I printed these entire guidelines off and it’s simply redundant of what other healthcare professionals are saying and doing already. It’s not helpful for those with mTBI. I have been diagnosed with about everything except what truly was happening. It wasn’t until I left the state that neurosurgeons needed to view my CAT scans that showed calcification right internal carotid and cavernous sinus (many years later)…demonstrating area of subarachnoid hemorrhage left untreated. Radiologist believed it was meningoma, but that was ruled out by the neurosurgeon. It takes dedicated professionals to diagnose properly and treat. They claimed nothing was wrong…but to admit something was wrong would have left them open to litigation. All I wanted was treatment…like all TBI survivors. I’ll leave my brain with the specialist that wants to study it…literally. So are you all really dealing with mTBI, or the fact that there is a failure to identify the true injuries and treat it. It’s easier to blame “psych” for everything. That’s the medical community fault and not the TBI survivors.

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  5. Pity, that you used the paper… I’ve been thinking that it might make sense for mTBI survivors to come up with their own guidelines that reference both clinical studies and personal experience in a way that healthcare folks can actually use.

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