Pain with traumatic brain injury and psychological disorders

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Traumatic brain injury (TBI) is the cause for long-term disability in more than 3 million patients in the US alone, with chronic pain being the most frequently reported complain. To date, predisposing mechanisms for chronic pain in TBI patients are largely unknown. Psychological disorders, including post-traumatic stress disorder, depression and anxiety following TBI are commonly reported comorbidities to post-traumatic pain. Long term consequences can be debilitating and affect quality of life even when the injury is mild. In this review, we present the most commonly reported chronic pain conditions across the spectrum of severity of TBI, mainly focusing on mild TBI. We discuss chronic post- traumatic headaches, widespread pain as well as post-traumatic central pain. We discuss pain in the context of injury severity and military versus civilian populations. We are only starting to understand the biological mechanisms behind post-traumatic pain and associated psychological distress following TBI, with genetic, biochemical and imaging studies pointing to the dopaminergic, neurotrophic factors and the role of Apolipoprotein. Physiological and neurological mechanisms are proposed to partially explain this interaction between post-traumatic pain and psychological distress. Nevertheless, the evidence for the role of structural brain damage remains incomplete and to a large extent debatable, as it is still difficult to establish clear causality between brain trauma and chronic pain. Finally, general aspects of management of chronic pain post-TBI are addressed.

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