Headaches Following Traumatic Brain Injury

Every year, approximately one million people in the U.S. suffer a traumatic brain injury with almost half a million of those requiring hospitalization. Approximately 90% of those head injuries are classified as mild, with the remaining 10% classified as moderate or severe. In many instances, traumatic brain injuries go untreated because the victim does not realize the danger involved in ignoring treatment.

Traumatic Brain Injury

Anytime the head is hit, there is potential for traumatic brain injury. Even if a foreign object does not penetrate the skull, or the skull is fractured, the brain may move inside the skull causing a concussion or contusion; both of these can be potentially life-threatening conditions. There are two levels of brain injury.

  • Primary – The damage occurs at the time of the trauma itself. Tissues and blood vessels may be torn or damaged causing the brain to swell or blood to pool.
  • Secondary – Sometimes occurring days or even weeks after the initial trauma, secondary brain injury occurs due to the cascading events going on in the recovery stage that actually make matters worse not better.

Approximately 40% of patients hospitalized after TBI worsen rather than get better. This is attributed to secondary TBI and is the primary cause of death in those injuries.

Signs and Symptoms

Mild symptoms may include:

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

Moderate symptoms include all of the above and may include some of the following:

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

Severe symptoms may include any or all the list above, as well as one or more of the following:

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

Emergency medical personnel should treat moderate to severe symptoms immediately. These conditions can be deadly.

In all too many cases, people put off seeking treatment after a head injury. You may think that a little knock in the head is not worth being checked out. In many cases, a headache following traumatic brain injury does not present itself until days later. You should always seek medical attention after experiencing head trauma in order to detect problems early.

As you can see from the list of symptoms above, people who experience a head injury do not always think clearly. Even if they only complain of a headache after the injury, they may not realize that there are other issues that may be going on. It is always best to seek medical attention in every traumatic head injury.

It is very common for patients undergoing brain injury to also have damage to the craniomandibular complex including the temporomandibular joint and jaw muscles. Symptoms can often be delayed and are not properly diagnosed because they can have a delayed onset of 6 months to a year or more.  During severe trauma, the first effort of emergency personnel is to mange life-threatening events not the jaws, jaw muscles or TM Joints.

Frequently, acute dislocations of the TM joint disc are not recognized by an untrained dentist, or a TMJ lock can occur at a later time due to injury of ligaments and/ or tendons. Contact iHATEheadaches consults to set up a headache consultation if you have been experienced a traumatic brain injury.

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