Headache is the most common symptom of concussion. Brain Injury Awareness Month is coming in March, an effort to increase awareness of brain injuries and their significance. The Brain Injury Association of America recently updated their definition of traumatic brain injury: TBI is defined as an alteration in brain function, or other evidence of brain pathology, caused by an external force. Even seemingly mild jolts to the brain can actually cause a concussion. Ever get that feeling of being dazed? That’s a concussion, too. Headaches can occur immediately at the time of impact or in the ensuing days afterwards, and can be brief, or can result in prolonged and chronic problems.
Morning headaches, if occurring consistently, are a reason to talk to your doctor. On a recent appearance on the Dr. Oz show, a panel of experts helped design a quiz to test your level of health. As a headache specialist, I felt that morning headaches were important to discuss. Morning headaches can be due to a number of ailments, many of which should be treated, aside from treating the actual headache.
Sleep apnea, medication overuse headaches (also called rebound headaches), and even brain tumors, can cause headaches when you awake in the morning. All 3 of these conditions need to be evaluated and treated or they can worsen. There are other conditons as well, that may lead to morning headaches, and as some migraine sufferers already know, often morning migraines can be among the most difficult to treat. You can see my discussion of the topic at http://www.youtube.com/user/AudreyHalpernMD
With kids, young and old, all out of school there is plenty of time and good weather for sports, recreation, and travel. We need to be cautious with our fun, just a little, to avoid potentially long term problems. That is truly the issue, who wants to think about head injuries as your heading to the pool or out for a game of softball? Since the 1970’s when I grew up, though, times have changed. Kids now wear helmets when they ride bikes, and sit in carseats til they’re 10 or so? I remember, but won’t go in to detail, riding on what was essentially the hood of my dad’s car while he drove 30 mph down our street. Boy, it was fun. We blasted Fleetwood Mac, the wind racing through our hair… those times are over, though. Car seats, seat belts, all this safety. But we, as a society, decided to make these changes because we knew the tragedy of losing a young healthy vital person for no reason. Now, all kids wear helmets when riding bikes, and they are getting more and more common on the ski slopes too. Why? Because even though we all want to feel the wind in our hair, we know better. We don’t want the tragedy to be our own loved ones, or our own selves. When this all started, everyone was upset. But we got used to it as a society, and now we all do it. I, for one, rebelled against seatbelts for a few years. Now, I feel naked without one.
So, back to summertime fun and concussions. We need to think about it, talk about it, know about it. Fatal brain injuries are tragic, and thankfully uncommon. Concussions are surprisingly common, and surprisingly dismissed. Yet, concussion can be downright dangerous, and can lead to long term consequences for our brains. We neurologists have some idea about the consequences in adults, and still don’t understand many of the consequences in children. In adults, concussions can lead to headaches, memory loss, mood changes, depression, dizziness, balance problems, impaired concentration, and more.
Think about safety and your brain. Protect it. You might need it one day. (or tomorrow.) If you get a concussion, stop doing what you’re doing, rest, and contact your doctor.
Bring your medications with you, in your bag… with you… in the car with you, on the plane with you. Accessible at all times. Even if your medication is Tylenol and a bottle of water. Be prepared during your travels.
Damage to blood vessels in the neck and head, can cause headaches. The type of damage I’m talking about is arterial dissection. This can happen after trauma, but sometimes the trauma is very innocuous, or there is no trauma at all. Also, sometimes this type of problem is associated with stroke like symptoms, but sometimes it’s just a headache.
Trauma that can lead to dissection includes whiplash type injuries, anything with prolonged hyperextension of the neck, and even cracking your own neck. So be careful out there… protect your head and neck.