Veterans who suffered traumatic brain injuries during their deployment may live with severe headaches for years after their injury, according to the findings of a new study presented at the American Headache Society annual meeting.
For the study, researchers evaluated 172 veterans who had served in Afghanistan or Iraq between 2 and 11 years before the onset of the study. Half of those experienced a traumatic brain injury, while the other half had no history of TBI.
The researchers were focused on identifying the number of former service members who had severe or disabling headaches. “Disabling” headaches prevented the veterans from doing any activity, effectively making them bedridden. “Severe” headaches were defined as those which limited the veteran to doing only essential tasks.
According to the findings, veterans with a history of traumatic brain injury during their deployment were much more likely to also deal with disabling or severe headaches. Approximately 75% of those with traumatic brain injury had these types of headaches, compared to just 25% of those without any record of TBI.
Dr. Peter Goadsby, chairman of AHS’s scientific program committee and professor of neurology at King’s College and the University of California, San Francisco, says the findings could help understand the long-term effects of the unique brain injuries experienced by military veterans.
“These new findings fill an important gap in our understanding of TBI—which many deployed troops experience—and its impact on headache severity over the long term that can be a key driver of disability for them,” he said in a society news release.
“We don’t know exactly how TBI causes these severe headaches, but their long-term persistence suggests that processes related to TBI remain active or produce permanent changes in the brain, allowing the headaches to continue,” he said. “These and other findings indicate that headaches following TBI will, unfortunately, continue to be a major problem for many veterans.”
The findings are considered preliminary until they are published in a peer-reviewed journal, but if confirmed these findings could help medical professionals better identify and treat TBI patients with long-term symptoms.