Headaches Hit Youngsters After Brain Injury

Headaches and traumatic brain injury linked

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) Headaches are surprisingly common for months after children and teenagers suffer a traumatic brain injury such as a concussion.

Brain injury from a whack on the head occurs in more than 500,000 children and teens yearly. Almost 45 percent of them have headaches three months after even a mild traumatic brain injury, said Heidi Blume, MD, MPH, from Seattle Children's Research Institute and principal investigator Fred Rivara, MD, MPH, of Harborview Injury Prevention and Research Center, University of Washington.

"Don't be surprised if headaches appear months after head injury."

A year after head injury, most headaches had stopped. Writing in Pediatrics, Dr. Blume and coauthors say no one knows why girls and teens most often have headaches after a traumatic brain injury. They also have the most migraines and other headache problems, 

Dr. Blume and colleagues analyzed the number of headaches 3 and 12 months after mild, moderate or severe traumatic brain injury in children ages 5 to 17. The 402 children with a mild injury had a higher rate of headaches, 43 percent of the group, compared to 37 percent of the 60 children with a moderate to severe injury.

The study's comparison group was patients with arm fractures, and 26 percent of them had headaches.

Concussion is one common brain injury often ignored. The Merck Manual says concussion involves unconsciousness, loss of memory, or other mental change. These problems last from seconds to several hours. Even a moderate concussion can cause tiredness, nausea, headache or dizziness.

Other possible problems include difficulty concentrating, depression, apathy, anxiety or losing the sense of smell. Symptoms usually go away over weeks to months.

A concussion and more dangerous injuries share some symptoms. That is one reason it is important to see a medical care provider before the injured person returns to energetic physical activity.

Letting a concussion heal also is important because several mild concussions may combine to cause more serious effects. Dr. Blume said to seek emergency care if someone with a possible head injury has repeated vomiting, severe new headache, confusion, bad balance, weakness, numbness or trouble speaking.

This observational study was published online December 5 in Pediatrics.

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Last Updated:
December 12, 2011