Depression Can Linger After Head Injury

Medically Reviewed by Gary D. Vogin, MD
From the WebMD Archives

Jan. 30, 2002 -- It's quite common for a person to become depressed in the months after a head injury. In fact, more than a quarter of patients experience some level of emotional distress. Now, new research shows that depression can linger for years, even decades.

Tracey Holsinger, MD, from Duke University Medical Center, and colleagues tracked the lifetime history of depression in more than 1,700 male World War II veterans who'd been hospitalized during service for a wound, a head injury, or pneumonia. They excluded anyone currently suffering from dementia, including Alzheimer's disease.

Compared with the men who'd been hospitalized for another cause, those who'd suffered a head injury were considerably more likely to currently suffer from, or have a history of, major depression. This difference remained even after taking age, education level, alcohol abuse, stroke, and other potential confounding factors into account.

The findings "suggest that the effects of head trauma continue for decades after injury," the researchers write. And taken with earlier studies showing increased incidence of Alzheimer's and other dementias in head injury patients, they "suggest that head injury may have lasting neurological effects that are not immediately evident."

And in these veterans, depression was not a symptom of posttraumatic stress disorder, the researchers write, because "we found no significant differences in rates of depression between veterans who received head injuries in combat and those who did not."

Overall, the risk of depression was highest for those with the most-severe head injuries, the researchers write.

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