You probably know that a headache is a common symptom when you get a concussion. But if you get a new headache within 7 days of your head injury -- or after you are conscious again -- you may have a condition called "post-traumatic headache."
Some post-traumatic headaches feel a lot like migraine. Others have symptoms similar to tension-type headaches. Whichever kind you get, there are treatments that can help you feel better.
Post-traumatic headache may happen because of the muscle tensing that goes on during your injury. Or your blood vessels may narrow, keeping blood from flowing to your head like it normally does.
When you get a post-traumatic headache that feels like a migraine, it could be moderate to severe in intensity. You could get symptoms like:
- Pain that pulses
- Nausea and vomiting
These symptoms usually get worse with regular activity. You may also get problems such as:
- Trouble concentrating
- Memory problems
- Sensitivity to light and sound
- Mood and personality changes like depression and nervousness
A post-traumatic headache that feels like a tension-type headache can have symptoms that are mild to moderate. The headache pain won't pulse and you won't have nausea or vomiting. You could be sensitive to light or sound.
Post-traumatic headaches can be constant or only happen every once in a while. If your headaches continue for more than 3 months after your concussion, your doctor may call it "persistent post-traumatic headache."
You're at higher risk of getting a post-traumatic headache if you already get headaches and migraine regularly.
You're also more likely to get one if you have a family history of headaches. Doctors think they're slightly more common in women but are still researching the reasons why.
If you find that your post-traumatic headache is making it hard to work or do your everyday activities, there are ways to manage the symptoms. The best choice for treating headaches that happen in the first few weeks after a concussion is usually medication. Your doctor may suggest you try:
- Anti-inflammatory drugs like aspirin, ibuprofen, or naproxen
- Pain medications, like acetaminophen
- Drugs made specifically for migraines, such as triptans
Always talk to your doctor before taking pain medications for a post-traumatic headache. Your doctor will want to watch for and help prevent side effects called rebound headaches, which can happen when you overuse pain medicine.
You also have options to manage your headache symptoms that don't involve medication. Your doctor might recommend you try:
- Physical therapy
- Speech therapy
- Occupational therapy
- Relaxation therapy
- Nerve stimulation
- Cognitive behavioral therapy
It's important to talk to your doctor right away if you get an injury to the head or whiplash. They can help you watch for signs of post-traumatic headache and start treatment early.
Your doctor may suggest medications that can prevent complications of post-traumatic headache or help you avoid persistent post-traumatic headache. Some drugs that may help are:
- Blood pressure medications
- Anti-seizure drugs