Posttraumatic Headache: Recent Progress. [Review]


Current Opinion in Neurology. 33(3):316-322, 2020 06.

Howard L; Schwedt TJ.

Posttraumatic headache (PTH) attributed to mild traumatic brain injury is common and debilitating. In up to one-half of those with acute PTH, the PTH becomes persistent (PTH), enduring for longer than 3 months. The high incidence and persistence of PTH necessitate research into PTH pathophysiology and treatment. In this review, recent developments regarding the diagnostic criteria for PTH, the pathophysiology of PTH, and PTH treatment are discussed.

International Classification of Headache Disorders 3 diagnostic criteria for PTH attributed to head trauma require that ‘a headache of any type’ starts within 7 days of a head injury. PTH is considered ‘persistent’ when it endures for more than 3 months. Preclinical and human PTH research suggest multiple pathophysiologic mechanisms including genetic influences, neuroinflammation, increased release and inadequate clearance of neuropeptides and neurotransmitters, mast cell degranulation, and brain structural and functional remodeling. Even when it has a phenotype similar to a primary headache, data suggest that PTH is distinct from primary headaches. There is a lack of high-quality evidence for the acute or preventive treatment of PTH. However, results from published studies of conventional headache therapies and newer therapies, such as calcitonin gene-related peptide mAbs and transcranial magnetic stimulation, justify the current and future randomized controlled trials.

Evidence points towards a complex pathophysiology for PTH that is at least partially distinct from the primary headaches. Although properly conducted clinical trials of PTH treatment are needed, existing work has provided important data that help to plan these clinical trials. Current and future investigations will help to identify PTH mechanisms, predictors for PTH persistence, therapeutic targets, and evidence-based treatment options.