08/23/12 at 2:44 pm

Lauren Ditter

But It’s Just A Headache

photo by DebbieC on Flickr

In a countless number of movies and novels set in the British Regency and Victorian Era women are plagued by headaches; oftentimes as a way to show them as fragile, or as a joke. It is not a trope used with male characters, but if it were would they be taken seriously? Probably not.  What if it was all viewed from a different angle and headaches were considered as something that legitimately affected their well-being?  Maybe they were getting out of a carriage earlier in the week and bumped their head on the door frame causing a very mild head injury. What if in present day your head bumped against the driver’s side window in a small accident with no other injury?  Could that genuinely affect anyone’s overall health?

A new study by Dr. Sylvia Lucas, coming out of the American Headache Society‘s Annual Meeting, states that those who experience milder head injuries tend to have more post-traumatic headaches as time progresses than those with severe injuries.

Out of the 598 participants in the study “about 70% [were] more likely than … their counterparts with moderate or severe injury to develop new headache or have a worsening of preexisting headache over the next year,” Dr Lucas was quoted as saying.  The majority of headaches were classified as migraines, though a large chunk was unclassifiable using the International Classification of Headache Disorders, second edition.

They do not know why this occurs, but Dr. Lucas thinks it is related to the specific mechanics of the accident that caused the head injury.

Breaking down the participants: 220 had mild traumatic brain injuries (TBI) and began the study the same week of their accident; the other 378 had moderate to severe traumatic brain injury and were admitted to rehabilitation facilities. They found that migraines and tension headaches were most common, and that cervicogenic headaches were less common. This was unexpected considering most of the incidents that led to the TBI stemmed from motor vehicle accidents.

“Study results showed that the mild TBI group and the moderate or severe TBI group had an identical prevalence of headache before injury (17%). But the former had a higher incidence of new or worsened headache at baseline (56% vs. 40%), at 3 months (63% vs. 37%), at 6 months (69% vs. 33%), and at 12 months (58% vs. 34%).”

If you are wondering how this might severely affect somebody’s life, about a year ago a story came out that soldiers were sidelined more from headaches than from other types of wounds. Headaches.  For the study Dr. Steven P. Cohen and his colleagues “reviewed the records of 985 soldiers who had been evacuated from the wars during 2004-2009 with a primary diagnosis of headache.” The causes of the headaches ranged from physical trauma, psychological or emotional, to environmental.

Only about a third of the patients in the study were able to return to duty.

So maybe headaches can cause a bigger imposition in life than originally thought. And the next time someone tells you “it’s just a headache” this will give them something to think about.

Check back again next week when we see what else is new on MD Consult.

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