Your Health: New treatment helps veterans with headaches

Published: Sep. 16, 2022 at 5:32 PM EDT
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LANSING, Mich. (WILX) - Nearly 500,000 American servicemen and women suffered post-traumatic stress disorder after the Afghanistan and Iraq conflicts.

Memory loss and headaches still plague Army veteran Michael Gatter nearly 20 years after three traumatic brain injuries during deployment in Iraq.

“Somebody had taken an explosive satchel and threw it on top of the vehicle, and it detonated,” Gatter recalled.

His military vehicle swerved to avoid a runaway truck and rolled over, suspending him in mid-air.

“I unbuckled my harness and when I unbuckled, it came head-first down on the driver’s hatch,” Gatter said.

And strike three, a tank hatch knocked him in the head. Those three incidents triggered 20 years of debilitating headaches and memory loss, until he participated in a groundbreaking cognitive behavioral study conducted by UT Health San Antonio.

It’s called cognitive behavioral therapy for headache (CBTH). The researchers modified psychotherapy treatment traditionally used for migraine sufferers.

“Not only did we see better headache outcomes from this headache treatment, which was expected, we showed PTSD improvements that were comparable to a gold standard PTSD treatment,” said Dr. Don McGeary.

During therapy, trained clinical psychologists taught vets to prevent their headache triggers, manage stress and re-engage in daily activities.

“It really helps them cope better,” McGeary said.

“My mission is helping my veteran community,” Gatter said. “What I like to do is everything I learn, I pass on.”

McGeary and his colleagues developed this therapy by modifying a previous migraine study. All research was conducted at the South Texas Veteran’s Health care system.

They are looking to replicate their findings in a more diverse sample. They plan to test CBTH in a larger trial at multiple military and VA sites around the United States.

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