Headache vs. Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI)

An obvious symptom of traumatic brain injury is a headache. Even with a severe and possibly life-threatening injury, the only symptom might be a mild to moderate headache that will not go away. Any head injury should be examined thoroughly and as quickly as possible to rule out a life-threatening situation.

Headache History

There are some common sense ways to determine if your headache is related to or caused by TBI instead of some other kind of headache. Most people, even if they only experience rare episodic headaches, have similar headaches each time. They can differentiate or recognize their typical tension, migraine, or cluster headache. If a headache is different in some way, it could be a cause for concern.

A dentist should probably check you if your headache presents itself in one of the following ways.

  • A sudden headache
  • One that presents differently than your normal
  • Any headache if you are over age 50
  • Your headache is associated with fever or neck pain

Lack of Trauma

A good way to distinguish your headache from traumatic brain injury is the lack of an injury. If you were not involved in an accident recently, the headache is probably just a new headache. It does not mean you should not be seen by a doctor; it simply means that it is not likely from any sort of brain injury.

In many cases however, the brain injury can occur several days, or in some cases weeks, before the onset of a headache. In the case of a small cerebral hemorrhage that remains undetected, you could begin to experience a headache several days after an injury due to a build-up of pressure on the brain.

There are three levels of TBI. Mild symptoms would be included with the moderate symptoms and all symptoms may be present in severe TBI.

A mild TBI may include

  • No loss or short loss of consciousness
  • Headache
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Confusion
  • Cognitive problems
  • Blurred vision

A moderate TBI may include:

  • Unresponsiveness
  • Worsening headache that doesn't go away
  • Dilation of one or both pupils
  • Slurred speech
  • Seizures
  • Extremity numbness or weakness

A severe TBI may include:

  • Pupil un-reactive to light
  • Paralysis
  • Decreased levels of consciousness
  • High blood pressure
  • Slow respirations
  • Low heart rate

If your headache occurs with any of the above symptoms, you should see medical attention immediately to rule out any potentially dangerous TBI. Obviously, some of the more serious symptoms above will be triaged by emergency medical personnel for you as you are rushed to the hospital. However, even if you only experience the mild symptoms, you should seek medical attention just in case.

If your headache does not present itself with any of the TBI symptoms above, you may be experiencing a new type of headache. People who suffer from tension headaches are prone to suffer other types of headache as well. If you have doubts about your headache however, it is a good idea to consult your dentist. Our iHATEheadaches doctors can offer more information on headaches and traumatic brain injury during a headaches consultation.

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