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Post-concussion headache

Overview

Concussion is a form of traumatic brain injury that occurs when the brain is jostled within the skull. It can lead to a variety of symptoms varying in intensity, with post-concussion headaches being one symptom. While most symptoms disappear within a week or two, these headaches may linger for weeks and even months following the injury. Those with a personal or family history of migraine appear to be at a higher risk of developing these headaches following a concussion.

  • Symptoms

    • Dizziness
    • Headache
    • Inability to concentrate
    • Insomnia
    • Memory problems
    • Nausea or vomiting
    • Sensitivity to light or sound
  • Prevention

    Since post-concussion headaches are a side effect of concussion, the only way to prevent them entirely is to avoid concussion.

  • Risk Factors

    • Concussion
    • Family history of migraine
    • Personal history of migraine
  • Diagnosis

    • Medical history and symptom review. As part of a medical visit following a concussion, a provider will take a thorough medical history, asking for information related to your symptoms and your lifestyle habits. This will include discussion about the circumstances around the injury.
    • Physical examination. After reviewing your symptoms, the provider will then conduct a physical exam, paying particular attention to the areas impacted by symptoms.
    • Additional testing. Because concussion affects cognition — and can lead to brain-related symptoms such as headache — neurological testing and cognitive tests will also be required. This will allow your medical provider to get a complete picture of how your mind and body have been impacted by the concussion. In cases of post-concussion headaches, your provider may also refer you to a headache specialist who has unique knowledge about headaches related to trauma.
  • Treatment

    • Post-concussion headaches typically resemble either migraine or tension headaches. Treatment will depend on the way a person’s headaches manifest.
    • First-line treatment for either type of headache typically involves the use of over-the-counter or prescription pain relievers or anti-inflammatory medications.
    • The application of heat or cold to the head or neck may also help provide relief for minor headaches.
    • Symptoms of post-concussion headaches may worsen when a person is experiencing stress, either physically or mentally, so stress management techniques may be recommended. This could include sub-threshold exercise, meditation or calming activities.
    • Treatment may also include other therapies designed to counteract specific symptoms related to your post-concussion headaches. If nausea is involved, providers may prescribe anti-nausea medications.
    • In cases of lingering post-concussion headaches, a medical provider may recommend the use of other medications designed to prevent the headaches from occurring. Behavioral or cognitive therapy may also be beneficial.
  • Follow-up Care

    • Once post-concussion headaches begin to diminish, your medical provider may recommend that you seek follow-up care if they recur.
    • He or she may also suggest ways you can avoid future concussions, such as practicing appropriate sports form, wearing helmets when needed, using fall prevention techniques and taking other preventive action.
    • Healthy lifestyle habits are also an important part of ensuring good health following a concussion and can help eliminate post-concussion headaches. Exercise regularly, eat a balanced diet, avoid smoking, limit alcohol consumption and get enough quality sleep.