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Can J Neurol Sci. 2019 Jan;46(1):14-22. doi: 10.1017/cjn.2018.361. Epub 2018 Dec 4.

Narrative Review of the Pathophysiology of Headaches and Photosensitivity in Mild Traumatic Brain Injury and Concussion.

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Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation Department,University of Montreal,Montreal, Quebec,Canada.
Ophtalmology Department,Centre Hospitalier de l'Université de Montréal,Montreal, Quebec,Canada.


The most common symptom of post-concussive syndrome (PCS) is post-traumatic headache (PTH) accompanied by photophobia. Post-traumatic headache is currently categorized as a secondary headache disorder with a clinical phenotype described by its main features and resembling one of the primary headache disorders: tension, migraine, migraine-like cluster. Although PTH is often treated with medication used for primary headache disorders, the underlying mechanism for PTH has yet to be elucidated. The goal of this narrative literature review is to determine the current level of knowledge of these PTHs and photophobia in mild traumatic brain injury (mTBI) in order to guide further research and attempt to discover the underlying mechanism to both symptoms. The ultimate purpose is to better understand the pathophysiology of these symptoms in order to provide better and more targeted care to afflicted patients. A review of the literature was conducted using the databases CINAHL, EMBASE, PubMed. All papers were screened for sections on pathophysiology of PTH or photophobia in mTBI patients. Our paper summarizes current hypotheses. Although the exact pathophysiology of PTH and photophobia in mTBI remains to be determined, we highlight several interesting findings and avenues for future research, including central and peripheral explanations for PTH, neuroinflammation, cortical spreading depolarization and the role of glutamate excitotoxicity. We discuss the possible neuroanatomical pathways for photophobia and hypothesize a possible common pathophysiological basis between PTH and photophobia.


Concussions; Headaches; Photosensitivity; Post-traumatic headaches; Traumatic brain injury

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