The persistent impact of traumatic brain injuries

Despite how common and severe they are, concussions are widely misunderstood. These misconceptions prevent people from seeking appropriate care immediately after a head injury and from learning about post-traumatic headache, one of the most common and persistent effects of concussion. Here’s what you need to know about concussion and migraine.

Myths about concussion

Anyone can experience a concussion, but concussions are most common in professional and student-athletes, and veterans. According to the Centers for Disease Control, they account for about 75 percent of traumatic brain injuries. Contrary to popular belief, you don’t have to lose consciousness to have a concussion. In fact, less than 10 percent of people who experience a concussion actually lose consciousness. Concussions aren’t exclusively caused by hits to the head, and can result from rapid acceleration or deceleration, such as whiplash.

Risk factors for post-traumatic headache

On a recent Facebook Live, Dr. Bert Vargas, Director of Sports Neurology and Concussion Program at UT Southwestern Medical Center, shared that over 90% of individuals experience a headache after a traumatic brain injury. Fortunately, that doesn’t mean that everyone will experience post-traumatic headache, or a headache that develops within seven days of an injury or after regaining consciousness, after an injury. Risk factors, such as being female, having pre-existing migraine or a family history of migraine, make an individual more susceptible to developing post-traumatic headache.

Preventing and treating post-traumatic headache

Every concussion is different, so it’s vital to speak to a health care professional immediately after injury to determine an individualized treatment plan. Professional, early treatment can reduce risk of further complications and help prevent persistent headache and other symptoms. While there are several subtle differences between migraine and post-traumatic headache, a large percentage of individuals with post-traumatic headache report experiencing symptoms similar to migraine—including headache, nausea, dizziness, insomnia, poor concentration, memory problems, sensitivity to light and sound.

Recognizing a concussion and quickly seeking the appropriate treatment is important to alleviate symptoms and prevent potential long-term consequences, including prematurely returning to activity and the risk of re-injuries. Use the American Migraine Foundation’s Find a Doctor tool to find a health care professional near you.