Approximately 1.7 to 1.8 million people in the U.S. suffer from traumatic brain injury (TBI) every year—primarily due to falls, motor vehicle accidents, and direct hits to the head. Between 30 to 90 percent of these TBI patients develop head pain that's known as a post traumatic headache.
Post traumatic headache, as defined by the International Headache Society, may develop within seven days of the injury/accident or after the patient regains consciousness following the injury. Post traumatic headache may resolve itself without treatment within three weeks, but that may not always be the case. Acute post-traumatic headaches last less than three months; when the pain persists beyond three months, the case is considered chronic post traumatic headache. Since they occur on a daily or almost-daily basis, these post traumatic headaches can greatly affect a person's quality of life and function.
How post traumatic headache manifests itself may vary from person to person, depending on the severity of the TBI. Even a mild TBI could come with post traumatic headache, and seventy-five percent of TBI are classified as mild. According to the book Brain Neurotrauma (2015), because incidents that can cause mild traumatic brain injury—which are usually related to sports and playtime activities or daily living, such as falling—do not lead to immediate medical attention, mild TBI is likely underestimated, so it is crucial for people to get help as soon as possible when they go through such an experience.
Post Traumatic Headache Symptoms to Watch Out For
Post-traumatic headaches may present as tension-type headaches, which can be moderate to severe, and pulsating. This can come with symptoms of nausea and vomiting, as well as sensitivity to light and sound. Post traumatic headache can also be similar to a migraine: a nonpulsating headache that can be mild to moderate, with either light or sound sensitivity but no nausea and vomiting.
While post-traumatic headache mainly presents itself with pain, there are other issues or accompanying symptoms that come with it. The International Classification of Diseases, 10th revision (ICD-10), offers criteria for mild post traumatic headache and traumatic brain injury, which, aside from the headache, includes the following set of symptoms:
- Excessive fatigue
- General malaise
- Noise intolerance.
According to the ICD-10, sufferers of post traumatic headache can also experience a range of psychological and neurological symptoms, such as irritability, emotional instability, depression, or anxiety, as well as insomnia, decreased level of consciousness, reduced alcohol tolerance, and subjective difficulties with concentration or memory.
What to do for Headache After an Accident?
If a person experiences a persistent headache after an accident, it is imperative to see a doctor, even after initial hospitalization following the incident. In a 2010 article for the Journal of Head Trauma Rehabilitation, John D. Corrigan and his fellow authors found that an estimated 43 percent of Americans live with disability one year after hospitalization from traumatic brain injury and 3.2 million live with residual disability. In order to avoid the worsening of issues and the development of long-term problems, one must address symptoms such as post traumatic headaches as soon as possible.
Make sure to consult specialists and professionals to care for you and assist you. Get comprehensive medical examinations. Cover all your bases—from your primary care doctor to a neurologist, from a chiropractor to even a personal injury lawyer, should you need one. This helps make the situation more manageable and less stressful; this way, if you do have post-traumatic headache and all the other post-traumatic symptoms that can come with a TBI, then you can focus on your healing and recovery.