Clinical Perspectives on Headache After Traumatic Brain Injury

PM R. 2020 Oct;12(10):967-974. doi: 10.1002/pmrj.12338. Epub 2020 Mar 2.


Background: Headache after traumatic brain injury (TBI) is frequent and persistent over the first year after injury. Providers may need to focus on different symptom presentations depending on their patient's TBI severity.

Objective: We evaluated headache symptoms in patients with moderate-to-severe TBI compared to patients with mild TBI and examined our data from two perspectives: (1) from providers who treat individuals after TBI and manage multiple postinjury symptoms including headache, and (2) from headache specialists who see individuals after TBI to manage headache.

Design: Prospective enrollment of individuals after TBI with telephone follow-up at 1-year postinjury.

Setting: Enrollment from hospital and then community followup.

Participants: Three hundred forty-six individuals with moderate-to-severe TBI were enrolled during acute inpatient rehabilitation across seven TBI Model System Centers. One hundred eighty-nine individuals with mild TBI were enrolled within 1 week of injury at a single center.

Intervention: None.

Main outcome measurements: Headache frequency, headache type, pain intensity, Headache Impact Test-6 (HIT-6), and depressive symptoms measured 1 year after injury.

Results: Headache prevalence is high in both TBI groups. TBI providers are more likely to evaluate and treat headache from individuals sustaining a mild TBI versus moderate-to-severe TBI. Patients with mild TBI are most likely to report tension-type headache followed by migraine-type headache. The migraine-type headache has higher impact (HIT-6) and greater pain intensity. Headache specialists may encounter patients with moderate-to-severe TBI who report more frequent headache and higher average pain scores compared to patients with mild TBI. The severity of TBI was unrelated to depressive symptoms 1 year after injury, but patients with headache were significantly more likely to have higher scores.

Conclusions: TBI providers versus headache specialists should be aware of differences in patient symptom presentation to their respective clinics. Ongoing assessment of headache and depression over time is important following TBI of any severity.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Brain Concussion*
  • Brain Injuries*
  • Brain Injuries, Traumatic* / complications
  • Brain Injuries, Traumatic* / diagnosis
  • Headache / diagnosis
  • Headache / epidemiology
  • Headache / etiology
  • Humans
  • Prospective Studies