Migraine After Concussion Linked to Worse Outcomes

Children who experience migraine headaches in the aftermath of a concussion are more likely to suffer prolonged symptoms of the head injury than those with other forms of headache or no headaches at all, researchers have found.

“Early assessment of headache ― and whether it has migraine features ― after concussion can be helpful in predicting which children are at risk for poor outcomes and identifying children who require targeted intervention,” said senior author Keith Owen Yeates, PhD, the Ronald and Irene Ward Chair in Pediatric Brain Injury Professor and head of the Department of Psychology at the University of Calgary, Alberta. “Posttraumatic headache, especially when it involves migraine features, is a strong predictor of persisting symptoms and poorer quality of life after childhood concussion.”

Approximately 840,000 children per year visit an emergency department in the United States after having a traumatic brain injury. As many as 90% of those visits are considered to involve a concussion, according to the investigators. Although most children recover quickly, approximately one third continue to report symptoms a month after the event.

Posttraumatic headache occurs in up to 90% of children, most commonly with features of migraine.

The new study, published March 8 in JAMA Network Open, was a secondary analysis of the Advancing Concussion Assessment in Pediatrics (A-CAP) prospective cohort study. The study was conducted at five emergency departments in Canada from September 2016 to July 2019 and included children and adolescents aged 8 to 17 years who presented with acute concussion or an orthopedic injury.

Children were included in the concussion group if they had a history of blunt head trauma resulting in at least one of three criteria consistent with the World Health Organization definition of mild traumatic brain injury. The criteria include loss of consciousness for less than 30 minutes, a Glasgow Coma Scale score of 13 or 14, or at least one acute sign or symptom of concussion, as noted by emergency clinicians.

Patients were excluded from the concussion group if they had deteriorating neurologic status, underwent neurosurgical intervention, had posttraumatic amnesia that lasted more than 24 hours, or had a score higher than 4 on the Abbreviated Injury Scale (AIS). The orthopedic injury group included patients without symptoms of concussion and with blunt trauma associated with an AIS 13 score of 4 or less. Patients were excluded from both groups if they had an overnight hospitalization for traumatic brain injury, a concussion within the past 3 months, or a neurodevelopmental disorder.

The researchers analyzed data from 928 children of 967 enrolled in the study. The median age was 12.2 years, and 41.3% were female. The final study cohort included 239 with orthopedic injuries but no headache, 160 children with a concussion and no headache, 134 with a concussion and nonmigraine headaches, and 254 with a concussion and migraine headaches.

Children with posttraumatic migraines 10 days after a concussion had the most severe symptoms and worst quality of life 3 months following their head trauma, the researchers found. Children without headaches within 10 days after concussion had the best 3-month outcomes, comparable to those with orthopedic injuries alone.

The researchers said the strengths of their study included its large population and its inclusion of various causes of head trauma, not just sports-related concussions. Limitations included self-reports of headaches instead of a physician diagnosis and lack of control for clinical interventions that might have affected the outcomes.

Charles Tator, MD, PhD, director of the Canadian Concussion Centre at Toronto Western Hospital, said the findings were unsurprising.

“Headaches are the most common symptom after concussion,” Tator, who was not involved in the latest research, told Medscape Medical News. “In my practice and research with concussed kids 11 and up and with adults, those with pre-concussion history of migraine are the most difficult to treat because their headaches don’t improve unless specific measures are taken.”

Tator, who also is a professor of neurosurgery at the University of Toronto, said clinicians who treat concussions must determine which type of headaches children are experiencing ― and refer as early as possible for migraine prevention or treatment and medication, as warranted.

“Early recognition after concussion that migraine headaches are occurring will save kids a lot of suffering,” he said.

The study was supported by a Canadian Institute of Health Research Foundation Grant and by funds from the Alberta Children’s Hospital Foundation and the Alberta Children’s Hospital Research Institute. Tator has disclosed no relevant financial relationships.

JAMA Nets Open. Published March 8, 2023. Full text

Kate O’Rourke is a medical journalist in Portland, Maine.

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