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Study Shows Veterans Who Suffered Traumatic Brain Injury While Deployed Have More Severe Headaches for Up to 11 Years

Can cause disability and significantly affect employment, marriage and quality of life

Boston, June 7, 2017 A new study by the Veterans Administration shows that veterans who suffered a traumatic brain injury (TBI) while deployed in Afghanistan or Iraq are significantly more likely to have more severe headaches than veterans who did not have a TBI while deployed. This difference persisted for up to 11 years. The findings are being presented at this year’ 59th annual meeting of the American Headache Society, taking place June 8 – 11, 2017 in Boston, Massachusetts.

“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,” said Peter Goadsby, MD, PhD, FAHS, AHS scientific program committee Chair, professor of neurology at King’s College, London and University of California, San Francisco and Director of NIHR-Wellcome Trust Clinical Research Facility, King’s College Hospital, London. “The results are striking – they show that veterans who experienced a TBI while deployed have much higher rates of painful headaches for many years, which can have a major negative impact on their lives and their families,” he said.

The study included 86 veterans who had suffered a TBI 2 to 11 years prior to the study while deployed (TBI group), and 86 veterans who also had been deployed 2 to 11 years ago but had not experienced a TBI (control group). Both groups were interviewed by the study investigators and completed standard questionnaires on headache severity and other measures. The investigators assessed the number of veterans who suffered the worst headaches, which included those described as “disabling” (resulting in 100% decrease in activity and being bedridden) and those described as “severe” (resulting in 50-90% decrease in activity and being able to do only the most essential tasks).

The researchers found that a much higher proportion of veterans in the TBI group than in the control group reported suffering the worst headaches: 75.6% vs. 25.7%, respectively (p < 0.0001). This difference between the two groups was similar at 2 to 7 years and 8 to 11 years after the TBI in the TBI group or after deployment in the control group.

“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,” said Dr. Goadsby, MD, PhD, FAHS. “These and other findings indicate that headaches following TBI will unfortunately continue to be a major problem for many veterans.”

About Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI)
Traumatic brain injury is caused by a bump, blow, or jolt to the head that disrupts the normal function of the brain. It is a major cause of death and disability in the United States that leads to approximately one third of all injury deaths. Among US service personnel in Iraq and Afghanistan, TBI can result from exposure to injury from combat-related explosions. Long-lasting effects of TBI – post-traumatic headache, post-traumatic stress, depression, sleep disorders and motor and cognitive impairments – can lead to disruption in the lives of many veterans that can make re-entry into civilian life challenging. To date, more than 330,000 military personnel have sustained a TBI. In some veterans, the headaches and disabilities show up weeks or months after the injury.

About the American Headache Society
The American Headache Society (AHS) is a professional society of health care providers dedicated to the study and treatment of headache and face pain. The Society’s objectives are to promote the exchange of information and ideas concerning the causes and treatments of headache and related painful disorders. Educating physicians, health professionals and the public and encouraging scientific research are the primary functions of this organization. AHS activities include an annual scientific meeting, a comprehensive headache symposium, regional symposia for neurologists and family practice physicians, and publication of the journal Headache. More information can be found at www.americanheadachesociety.org. In 2010 AHS founded the American Migraine Foundation (AMF) to provide access to information and resources for individuals living with migraine, as well as their loved ones. AMF is a non-profit organization dedicated to the advancement of research and awareness surrounding migraine. Patients can learn more, find help and get connected by visiting www.americanmigrainefoundation.org.

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