How to Determine if Head Injury Is Causing Headaches

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You’ve recently hit your head and now you’ve begun having headaches. Naturally, you wonder if the headaches are related to the injury, but you aren’t sure how to find out. I interviewed Eric Stiner, MD, Chief Resident of Neurosurgery at UCLA Medical Center, to find out how to determine when a head injury is causing headaches.

First things first. Did the headaches begin after a head trauma occurred? "It seems obvious, and it is," Dr Stiner says. "New onset headaches following an injury to the head are often related to the injury." Pay attention to how soon after the injury the headaches began, when they occur, how often they occur and if there are any particular triggers. This is valuable information for your health care provider.

Try to determine if the headaches are different or the same as other headaches you typically have or have had in the past. For example, if you tend to have migraines, do these new headaches feel the same or different? Does it feel like the tension headache you usually get after a tough day at work? Tell you health care provider about any similarities or differences.

For a mild head injury, headaches usually improve will improve after about two weeks. In the meantime, treat the headaches with a pain reliever such as acetaminophen (e.g. Tylenol). Do not use other types of pain relievers unless your physician knows about the injury and approves the medication, as most other types of over-the-counter pain relievers can increase the risk of bleeding.

If the head injury is more severe, such as in the case of a severe closed head injury, headaches will usually last beyond two weeks and can last as long as six months. If you’ve already been evaluated by a medical professional, follow their advice and pain management suggestions until the headaches subside.

Make sure to report persistent headaches, as well as any other signs of concussion, to your physician. “It is a good idea for people with persistent headaches to have a medical evaluation in any case, but this is especially important following a head injury,” Dr. Stiner says.

Tips & Warnings

  • This article is for information purposes only and does not replace or represent medical assessment, diagnosis or treatment. Always call your physician, go to an emergency room or call 911 to seek medical treatment or advice.

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