Conference Coverage

Children may develop prolonged headache after concussion



Children and adolescents without a history of headache may develop prolonged headaches after sustaining a concussion, according to research presented at the annual meeting of the Child Neurology Society. The headache may be migraine, chronic daily headache, tension-type headache, or a combination of these headaches.

“We strongly recommend that individuals who develop persistent headache after a concussion be evaluated and treated by a neurologist with experience in administering treatment for headache,” said Marcus Barissi, Weller Scholar at the Cleveland Clinic, and colleagues. “Using this approach, we hope that their prolonged headaches will be lessened.”

Few studies have examined prolonged pediatric postconcussion headache

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that between 1.6 million and 3.8 million concussions occur annually during athletic and recreational activities in the United States. About 90% of concussions affect children or adolescents. The symptom most often reported after concussion is headache.

Few studies have focused on new persistent postconcussion headache (NPPCH) in children. Mr. Barissi and colleagues did not find any previous study that had examined prolonged headache following concussion in patients without prior chronic headache. They sought to ascertain the prognosis of patients with NPPCH and no history of prior headache, to describe this clinical entity, and to identify beneficial treatment methods.

The investigators retrospectively reviewed charts for approximately 2,000 patients who presented to the Cleveland Clinic pediatric neurology department between June 2017 and August 2018 for headaches. They identified 259 patients who received a diagnosis of concussion, 69 (27%) of whom had headaches for longer than 2 months after injury.

Mr. Barissi and colleagues emailed these patients, and 33 (48%) of them agreed to complete a questionnaire and participate in a 10-minute phone interview. Thirty-one patients (43%) could not be contacted, and eight (11%) declined to participate. All participants confirmed that they had not had consistent headache before the concussion and that chronic headache had arisen after concussion. To determine participants’ medical outcomes, the researchers compared participants’ initial assessment data with posttreatment data collected during the interview process.

Healthy behaviors increased after concussion

Of the 69 eligible participants, 38 (55%) were female. The population’s median age was 17. Twenty-eight (85%) of the 33 patients who completed the questionnaire considered the information and treatment that they had received to be beneficial. Twenty-five (78%) patients continued to have headache after several months, despite treatment.

Participants had withstood a mean of 1.72 concussions, and the mean age at first injury was 12.49 years. The most common cause of injury was a fall for males (36%) and an automobile accident for females (18%).

Forty-eight patients (70%) reported having two types of headache. Fifty-two patients (75%) had migraines, and 65 (94%) had chronic daily headache or tension-type headache. Forty-eight (70%) participants had a family history of headache.

In all, 64 patients (93%) had used a headache medication. The most common headache medications used were amitriptyline, topiramate, and cyproheptadine. Few patients were still taking these medications at several months after evaluation. The most common nonprescription medications used were Migravent (i.e., magnesium, riboflavin, coenzyme Q10, and butterbur), ondansetron, and melatonin. Furthermore, 61 patients (88%) participated in nonmedicinal therapy such as physical therapy, chiropractic therapy, and acupuncture.

After evaluation, patients engaged in several healthy behaviors (e.g., adequate exercise, proper use of over-the-counter medications, and drinking sufficient water) more frequently, but did not get adequate sleep. Sixty-five participants (94%) had undergone CT or MRI imaging, but the results did not improve understanding of headache etiology or treatment. Many patients missed several days of school, but average attendance improved after months of treatment.

Long-term outcomes

Thirty-one survey respondents (94%) reported that their emotional, cognitive, sleep, and somatic postconcussion symptoms had resolved. Nevertheless, a majority of participants still had headache. “The persistence of postconcussion symptoms is uncommon, but lasting headache is not,” said the researchers. “If patients are not properly educated, conditions may deteriorate, extending the duration of disability.” A longer study with a larger sample size could provide valuable information, said the researchers. Future work should examine objectively the efficacy of various medications used to treat NPPCH and determine the best methods of treatment for this syndrome, which “can cause prolonged pain, suffering, and lack of function,” they concluded.

The investigators did not report any study funding or disclosures.

SOURCE: Barissi M et al. CNS 2019, Abstract 95.

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