Concussion and headache have become common buzz words in the media today. Much of this attention comes from the large number servicemen and women who come home from Iraq or Afghanistan concussed. A large faction of former football and hockey players also seem to be suffering the effects of too many concussions, even years after they've stopped playing in their sports.
At last month's American Headache Society annual scientific meeting, there was a strong focus on concussion and traumatic brain injury (TBI) in the military. Dr. Sarah Gibbons spoke to this in her presentation, "Headaches in U.S. Soldiers with Concussion: A 12-Month Longitudinal Study."
Servicemen and women were give a baseline questionnaire along with cognitive and psychological tests. A total of 181 soldiers who suffered a concussion during deployment took part in this study. A year later, the participants completed a headache follow-up questionnaire.
The results are as follows:
- At the beginning of the study, servicemen had an average of 9.7 headache days per month; a year later, the servicemen still suffered from an average of nine headache days per month.
- 92 percent of servicemen said they had headaches in the prior three months; a year later, 98 percent of servicemen said they had headaches in prior three months.
- 26 percent of servicemen had chronic daily headache at the start of the study and, at the year mark, 17.7 percent of servicemen had daily chronic headache.
- 30.4 percent of servicemen had a greater than 50 percent improvement in their headache occurrence at the year mark, but almost 70 percent of servicemen had less than a 50 percent improvement or headaches worsened at 12 months.
- 27 percent of participants had post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Of those soldiers suffering from PTSD, 31 percent saw their headaches improve during the year while 26 percent had no change in their headaches.
- At a year, 84 percent of study participants were taking medications (either OTC or by prescription) to abort their head pain and 12 percent of servicemen were taking daily preventive medications.
The Migraine Disability Assessment Test, better known as the MIDAS test, was given to the servicemen at the start of this study and again at the 12-month mark. The test measures how disabled a person is by their Migraines. A score of less than five indicates little or no disability; mild disability score ranges from six to 10; moderate disability 11-20; a score greater than 20 shows a severe disability due to Migraine. The average MIDAS score at the beginning of the study was 5.5 and rose to 11 at the one year mark.
The researchers concluded that soldiers who had headaches from deployment-related concussion don't seem to improve during the first year at home. What I found very interesting is that the researchers found PTSD does not seem to be associated with the servicemen's headache prognosis.
Thankfully, mild traumatic brain injury is finally being taken more seriously. Soldiers and civilians alike who have been affected by a TBI will be able to gain important information from such studies. I'm fairly certain this is just the beginning of the journey to solve concussion and TBI.