University of Washington

Department of Rehabilitation Medicine

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Characterization of headache after traumatic brain injury


Lucas S, Hoffman JM, Bell KR, Walker W, Dikmen S



Publication Info:

Cephalalgia, 32(8):600-606


BACKGROUND: Headache is a common and persistent symptom following traumatic brain injury (TBI). Headaches following TBI are defined primarily by their temporal association to injury, but have no defining clinical features. To provide a framework for treatment, primary headache symptoms were used to characterize headache.
METHODS: Three hundred and seventy-eight participants were prospectively enrolled during acute in-patient rehabilitation for TBI. Headaches were classified into migraine/probable migraine, tension-type, or cervicogenic headache at baseline and 3, 6, and 12 months following TBI.
RESULTS: Migraine was the most frequent headache type occurring in up to 38% of participants who reported headaches. Probable migraine occurred in up to 25%, tension-type headache in up to 21%, then cervicogenic headache in up to 10%. Females were more likely to have endorsed pre-injury migraine than males, and had migraine or probable migraine at all time points after injury. Those classified with migraine were more likely to have frequent headaches.
CONCLUSIONS: Our data show that most headache after TBI may be classified using primary headache criteria. Migraine/probable migraine described the majority of headache after TBI across one year post-injury. Using symptom-based criteria for headache following TBI can serve as a framework from which to provide evidence-based treatment for these frequent, severe, and persistent headaches.

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