The findings of a recent study by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs were released at the 59th annual meeting of the American Headache Society in Boston, June 8-11, 2017. The study shows that U.S. veterans who suffered a traumatic brain injury (TBI) during their deployment in Afghanistan and Iraq may experience severe headaches for up to 11 years.
The study included 86 veterans who experienced a deployment-related TBI in the two to 11 years prior, and 86 veterans deployed during the same time frame who did not suffer a TBI. 75.6 percent of those in the TBI group reported suffering disabling (100 percent decrease in activity) or severe (50-90 percent decrease activity) headaches. Only 25.7 percent of those in the control group reported such headaches.
Traumatic brain injury accounts for one third of all injury deaths in the United States. More than 330,000 veterans and military personnel to date have sustained a TBI. In some cases, symptoms don’t appear for weeks or months after the initial injury. These service-connected TBIs are commonly a result of combat-related explosions (blast injuries).
It is unclear what causes such severe, persistent headaches after a TBI. Peter Goadsby, M.D., explained in a press release from the meeting, “We don’t know exactly how TBI causes these severe headaches, but their long-term persistence suggests that processes related to TBI remain active or produce permanent changes in the brain, allowing the headaches to continue.” He postulated that headache symptoms will continue to have a major impact on veterans and their families for many years to come.
In addition to severe headache pain, the long-term effects of TBI include post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, sleep disorders, and motor and cognitive impairments — any or all of which can significantly impact relationships and future civilian employment. Clearly, more studies are needed to understand the long-term effects of TBI to develop effective treatment strategies.
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Reviewed by David Watson, M.D.
© Tammy Rome, 2017.
Headache disorders advocate and patient expert, blogger, and mental health therapist, Tammy Rome maintains a private practice specializing in behavioral pain management, as well as writing for her own blog, Brain Storm. She also volunteers as vice chair of the American Headache and Migraine Association and as president of The Cluster Headache Support Group. You can read more of Tammy’s work on her blog and follow her on Facebook, Twitter, StumbleUpon, Pinterest, LinkedIn, and Google+.