Post Traumatic Headache

Symptoms and Treatment for Post-Traumatic Headache

Post-traumatic headache (PTH) follows a brain injury and often resembles migraine or tension headache. In any given year, almost 1.7 million traumatic brain injuries occur in the U.S. Headache is a common effect of brain injury and can occur after mild, moderate or severe injury. PTH that doesn’t resolve within three months is called persistent PTH. Persistent PTH is associated with these risk factors: being female and/or having a family history of migraine. If you or a loved one experiences headache after a brain injury, contact the headache experts at the Diamond Headache Clinic for proper diagnosis and treatment. We understand the impact PTH can have on the lives of patients and their families, and we are eager to help you resume your normal life.

Doctor speaking with patient that is suffering from head pain

What Are the Symptoms of Post-Traumatic Headache?

Symptoms of this condition may include:

  • Headache that develops within 7 days of injury or after regaining consciousness
  • Migraine headache symptoms:
    • Moderate to severe pulsating head pain
    • Nausea and/or vomiting
    • Sensitivity to light and/or sound
    • Pain that worsens with activity
  • Tension headache symptoms:
    • Mild to moderate non-pulsating pain
    • No nausea or vomiting
    • Sensitivity to light and/or sound

PTH is often part of the post-traumatic syndrome, which includes a variety of symptoms such as poor concentration, problems with equilibrium, irritability, decreased ability to work, depression, sleep disturbances and more.

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How Is Post-Traumatic Headache Diagnosed?

Make an appointment to see an experienced headache physician at the Diamond Headache Clinic for a correct diagnosis of PTH. While the causes of PTH are not entirely understood, it is believed that PTH may be caused by the release of certain chemicals, swelling of brain structures or even shrinking the brain, all of which can occur after an injury to the brain. A neurological examination and medical history are often sufficient for diagnosis. If your brain injury was severe, your doctor may order a CT or MRI scan to rule out a brain bleed.

What Is the Recommended Post-Traumatic Headache Treatment?

Medication has proven to be the most effective therapy for this condition. The type of drugs and duration of use are tailored to the individual’s symptoms. During the first few weeks, we recommend anti-inflammatories or pain medications, including those used for migraine (e.g., triptans). If the headache persists, we consider preventive drug therapy. Antidepressants, blood pressure pills and anti-seizure medication are commonly used preventive drugs for post-traumatic headache.

As with other headache conditions, we also recommend non-drug treatments. These include biofeedback, relaxation therapy, physical therapy and cognitive behavior modification. The Diamond Headache Clinic offers these therapies, along with the education that allows patients to continue performing some of these therapies at home. We also provide psychological support to our PTH sufferers to help them identify psychological problems that may trigger headache.

Be sure to contact your doctor if PTH pain does not improve within three months, if your pain medications stop working or if you are experiencing mood changes.

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