Post Traumatic Headaches

Reviewed by: HU Medical Review Board | Last review date: November 2010

A post-traumatic headache occurs after an injury to the head or neck. In fact, headache is the most common symptom people experience after a mild head injury.

The pain may start immediately or up to a week after the injury. Some people still experience pain months after the injury. The headaches are caused by swelling or fluid accumulating in and around the brain. Inside the skull, there is no room for swollen tissues to expand which causes increased pressure - called intracranial pressure.

About one in seven chronic daily headaches can be blamed on head and neck injuries.

In the U.S. each year, there are between 1.4 million to 1.8 million head or brain injuries. More than 50 percent of these injuries are linked to alcohol use. Men are twice as likely to suffer a head injury and African Americans are twice as likely to suffer head injuries as other races. Most head injuries occur in people ages 15 to 29 and those ages 65 to 70.

Types of injuries that cause post-traumatic headaches

  • Violence
  • Motor vehicle or motorcycle accident
  • Falls
  • Bicycle accidents
  • Sports injuries

Symptoms of post-traumatic headaches

Diagnosing Post-traumatic headache

The International Headache Society defines the post-traumatic headache as:

A - Headache that has no typical characteristics known and fulfills the criteria in C and D

B - Head trauma with all the following symptoms:

  1. Either no loss of consciousness, or loss of consciousness that lasted less than 30 minutes
  2. Score on glasgow Coma Scale—which is used to evaluate the level of consciousness following traumatic brain injury—equal or greater than 13
  3. Symptoms and/or signs that are diagnosed as a concussion

C - Headache develops within seven days after head trauma

D - One or other of the following:

  1. Headache goes away within three months after head trauma
  2. Headache hasn’t gone away, but the injury was less than three months ago

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