Why are Headaches Common After Brain Injury?

Headaches more likely after mild traumatic brain injury compared to more severe injuries

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

(RxWiki News) It seems obvious that headaches would persist after a traumatic brain injury. Curiously, headaches appear to be more common after a mild traumatic brain injury compared to more severe injuries.

The prevalence of new or worse headaches appear to remain significantly high during the first year after a mild brain injury, the researchers found.

"Report symptoms such as headache to your doctor, even if they seem minor."

Sylvia Lucas, MD, PhD, a lead author from the University of Washington Medical Center in Seattle, said it was already known that a headache is the most common symptom after traumatic brain injury.

The goal of the study was to examine whether severity of the injury played a role in development of headaches.

During the study, researchers enrolled two cohorts and followed them for one year. The first included 220 patients with mild traumatic brain injury enrolled within seven days of injury. The second group included 378 patients with moderate to severe traumatic brain injury who were admitted for inpatient rehabilitation.

In both groups, the majority of patients were injured in car accidents. Most in both groups were men with an average age of 44. The patients were evaluated by phone at three, six and 12 months after injury.

Researchers found that headaches increased following injury, particularly for those with mild traumatic brain injury.

Among patients with moderate to severe traumatic brain injuries, 37 percent reported headaches three months after the injury, while 33 percent had a headache at six months and 34 percent at 12 months.

Among patients with mild traumatic brain injury, 63 percent reported a headache at three months, compared to 69 percent at six months and 58 percent at 12 months. The most common type of headache reported was a migraine.

“These findings should caution us to not underestimate seemingly milder head injuries and to take all brain trauma very seriously,” said Dr. Lucas.

The research was recently presented at the 54th Annual Scientific Sessions of the American Headache Society in Los Angeles, Calif.

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Review Date: 
June 25, 2012
Last Updated:
June 29, 2012