man with a headache concussion holding his head

Concussions vs. Post-Traumatic Headaches

Are Concussions and Post-Traumatic Headaches Different?

Suffering an injury to your head can be a serious condition that needs immediate medical attention. Here’s how to tell the difference between two common brain injury terms.

What Is a Concussion?

According to the American Migraine Foundation, a concussion is defined as a traumatic brain injury (TBI) that changes the way our brains function. There are different levels of brain injury, including:

  • Concussions (trauma to the head)
  • Contusions (bleeding under the skin)
  • Penetrations (piercing and damaging under the skin)

Concussions are a result of a direct hit to the head, though violent shaking to the head or neck can also cause whiplash. When sudden movement forces the brain to move around in the skull, it can cause a chemical change in the brain or brain cells.

Additionally, you do not need to lose consciousness to be diagnosed with a concussion; only about 10 percent of patients who experience a concussion actually lose consciousness at the time of impact.

Common signs of a concussion may include:

  • Confusion or feeling ‘foggy’.
  • Dizziness.
  • Nausea and vomiting.
  • Amnesia.
  • Headache or a feeling of pressure in the head.

Most concussive symptoms resolve quickly and spontaneously. However, some patients experience prolonged symptoms, such as a post-traumatic headache. There is no known treatment for a concussion other than rest.

What is a Post-Traumatic Headache?

Post-traumatic headaches occur due to the muscle tensing after an injury. They can result from mild, moderate, or severe injury. Some patients’ blood vessels may narrow, keeping blood from flowing to their head like it normally does.

This injury does not happen immediately after an injury in most cases. A post-traumatic headache typically develops within seven days of an injury or regained consciousness and lasts for at least three to six months. Veterans and athletes (both professional and amateur) are more prone to TBIs and account for about 75 percent of reported TBI cases.

Post-traumatic headaches most closely resemble migraines and are often associated with moderate to severe intensity, pulsating, and light or sound sensitivity. Other symptoms may be present, including nausea, or vomiting.

Migraines v. Post-Traumatic Headaches

While anyone who has experienced a migraine can tell you that it’s certainly not a pleasant feeling, this does not mean they have a post-traumatic headache. This condition differs from a migraine in the cause. Migraines are typically associated with a number of causes, including:

  • Emotional triggers such as stress.
  • Lack of exercise.
  • Dehydration.
  • Poor diet.

How Do Concussions and Post-Traumatic Headaches Differ?

A post-traumatic headache typically occurs after a traumatic brain injury, such as a concussion. This means that aching associated with a concussion is actually a post-traumatic headache, but a concussion is not the only cause of a post-traumatic headache. Patients may experience both conditions simultaneously.

Treating Post-Traumatic Headaches and Concussions

If you’ve suffered a head injury, you should see your doctor to determine if you do indeed have a concussion. You should also refrain from participating in physical activity and using electronics to give your brain time to heal. Athletes should especially refrain from returning to physical activity until they are symptom-free and have been cleared by their doctor.

If you begin to notice a severe headache following an injury, seek medical help immediately. For more information about concussions and emergency concussion care, contact our team at (903) 417-0886 today.

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