Headaches may potentially indicate severity of PTSD, finds study

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a mental health disorder affecting individuals who have been victims of or have witnessed a grievous event, such as armed conflict, death of a loved one, an accident, sexual assault or a natural calamity. Besides showing psychosomatic symptoms of the traumatic event, people with PTSD may also experience physical symptoms such as chronic pain. Headaches are reported as one of the complaints in PTSD patients, and so far there have been a limited number of studies which have focused on this symptomatic relationship.

A new study has attempted to investigate the incidence of headaches among people with PTSD. Results of the study were published in the journal Neurology in April 2017 and also presented at the 2017 American Academy of Neurology Annual Meeting held in Boston between April 22 and 28. The findings show that the occurrence of headaches in patients with PTSD may indicate the severity of the disorder.

The study enrolled a total of 101 individuals with PTSD between January 2013 and December 2015 to evaluate the occurrence and type of headaches experienced by them through a self-administered survey. The impact of headaches was measured using a combination of the Headache Impact Test (HIT-6) and the Profile of Mood States (POMS), a mood questionnaire. The survey results showed that 37 of the 101 participants, representing 36.6 percent of the total, reported headaches following PTSD, while 18 participants complained of continuous headaches prior to and following PTSD. Irrespective of when the pain from headaches started, the overall occurrence of headaches in patients with PTSD amounted to a little over 54 percent.

Significant correlation found between severity of PTSD and intensity of headaches

An analysis of the HIT-6 score estimated that 56.4 percent patients were majorly impacted. Additionally, a significant correlation was found between severity of PTSD and intensity of headaches. Tension headaches occurring after the onset of PTSD were reported by 45.5 percent of the participants. Neither a prescription of psychotropic medication nor a brain injury due to mild trauma was found to worsen the headaches. POMS scores were, on an average, higher in patients with headaches, and these were principally linked to moods such as anger and depression.

The occurrence of headaches in people with PTSD is frequent, but it has not received as much focus as other symptoms associated with the disorder. There is no conclusive evidence which has been able to ascertain why individuals with PTSD have a higher propensity to suffer from headaches. Past research shows that stress can be an important trigger for headaches, and PTSD symptoms can cause very high stress levels and mental pressure. Individuals with PTSD may face significant obstacles in their personal and professional relationships which may cause more stress, thereby increasing the chances of experiencing headaches. Previous studies have also shown the association between migraine and PTSD.

In a few instances, such as an accident, which results in injury or trauma to the head or brain, there is a higher likelihood of experiencing issues related to headaches.

Findings emphasize the need for multiple modes of intervention to manage PTSD

The researchers summarize the results of the study by stating that headaches are frequent complaints in PTSD patients, which may potentially indicate the severity of the disorder. The findings emphasize a multidisciplinary approach to manage PTSD. A 2014 study, titled “Treatment of PTSD and Chronic Daily Headache” shows that although separate treatments are available for PTSD and chronic daily headaches (CDH), there is limited research on individuals with CDH and co-occurring PTSD. The study’s authors recommended the use of multiple therapeutic methods or modes of interventions to provide comprehensive treatment imbibing effective approaches from each individual condition.

If you or a loved one is suffering from PTSD or other anxiety disorders, contact the Anxiety Treatment Centers of California to get information on evidence-based anxiety disorders treatment in California. Call our 24/7 helpline number 855-972-9459 or chat online to know more about PTSD treatment centers in California that offer personalized programs in a serene environment for the patient’s complete recovery.

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