Soldiers' Chronic Headaches Linked to Mild Head Trauma

by Teri Robert, Lead Expert

Over the last few years, long-needed evaluation of our military for Migraine and other headache disorders exacerbated or caused by event and / or circumstances of being deployed have been conducted and the results published.

Additionally, more attention has been paid to head and neck trauma and traumatic brain injury (TBI).

A new study shows nearly half of U.S. soldiers returning home from combat with headaches problematic enough to require specialized care also have a history of mild head trauma.

Study objective:

"To determine the incidence and types of head or neck trauma and headache characteristics among US Army soldiers evaluated for chronic headaches at a military neurology clinic following a combat tour in Iraq."2

Study methods:

  • Conducted with 81 (73 male and 8 female) U. S. Army soldiers who had served in the same brigade.
  • All were evaluated at the same military neurology clinic for the complaint of recurrent headaches following a combat tour in Iraq of one-year.
  • Soldiers were eligible to participate in the study if
    • they experienced headaches during deployment and
    • continued to experience headaches for 3 or more months after returning from Iraq.
  • All were evaluated using a standardized interview and evaluation to determine if the had experienced head or neck trauma during their deployment, the type of trauma, and the type and characteristics of their headaches.

Study results:

  • 33 of 81 (41%) of the soldiers in the study reported head or neck trauma while deployed to Iraq.
  • 18 (22%) of the study participants had concussion without loss of consciousness; 15 (19%) had concussion with loss of consciousness.
  • 10 study participants also had an accompanying traumatic neck injury.
  • None of the study participants had moderate or severe traumatic brain injury (TBI).
  • 67% of the head and neck injuries were attributable to exposure to blasts; 15% attributed to blunt trauma; 18% attributed to other explosive causes.
  • In 12 of 33 (36%) of the participants with head or neck injury, headaches began within one week of the reported trauma.
  • 12 (36%) of study participants reported worsening of pre-existing headaches following trauma.
  • In 78% of the participants with neck or head trauma, headaches were classified as "Migraine-type."
  • The types of headache, severity, duration, and the disability caused by the headaches were similar in participants with and without reported head or neck trauma.
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