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Curr Treat Options Neurol. 2002 Jan;4(1):89-104.

Post-traumatic Headache.

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  • 1*The Head Pain Center, 799 East Hampden Avenue, Suite 100, Englewood, CO 80110, USA.


Headache is the most common symptom after closed head injury, persisting for more than 2 months in 60% of patients. Rarely does headache occur in isolation. Cervical pain is a frequent accompaniment. Post-traumatic headache is often one of several symptoms of the postconcussive syndrome, and therefore may be accompanied by additional cognitive, behavioral, and somatic problems. Acute post-traumatic headaches may begin at the time of injury and continue for up to 2 months post-injury. Although onset proximate to the time of injury is most common, any new headache type occurring within this period of time is referred to as an acute post-traumatic headache. If such headaches persist beyond the first two months post-injury, they are subsequently referred to as chronic post-traumatic headaches. Over time, post-traumatic headaches may take on a pattern of daily occurrence. If aggressive treatment is initiated early, posttraumatic headache is less likely to become a permanent problem. Once "windup" of post-traumatic headaches occurs, the cycle of ongoing headaches is more difficult to interrupt. The mechanism of post-traumatic headache is poorly understood. Trauma-induced headaches are usually heterogeneous in nature, often including both tension-type pain and intermittent migraine-like attacks. Rebound-headaches may develop from overuse of analgesic medications, and the occurrence of such may complicate significantly the diagnosis of post-traumatic headache. Adequate treatment typically requires both "peripheral" and "central" measures. Understanding the general principles of treatment, especially appropriate use of preventive and abortive medications, will most usefully guide treatment. There is scant literature with which to direct treatment selection for post-traumatic headache. Consequently, treatments for post-traumatic headache are based on those prescribed for phenomenologically similar but etiologically distinct headache disorders. Delayed recovery from post-traumatic headache may be a result of inadequately aggressive or ineffective treatment, overuse of analgesic medications resulting in analgesia rebound phenomena, or comorbid psychiatric disorders (eg, post-traumatic stress disorder, insomnia, substance abuse, depression, or anxiety).

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