My husband suffered a stroke and still sometimes feels a burning sensation in his head. Why?

Erma asked...

My husband had a stroke (in the back of his head on the left side) on May 7th. He still gets a buring sensation in his head sometimes. Why?

Expert Answer

James Castle, M.D. is a neurologist at NorthShore University HealthSystem (affiliated with The University of Chicago) and an expert on strokes.

This is quite an interesting question, and it may require an examination of your husband to get an accurate answer. The problem here is most likely due to damage in the sensory systems of the brain caused by the stroke. In many ways, this is similar to "phantom pains" that amputees often describe coming from a lost limb after an accident or operation. In your husband's case, rather than having damage in the sensory wiring from a trauma to a limb, there is damage to the sensory wiring in the brain itself. The brain often responds by giving the patient a false sense of discomfort. This is more common in "posterior circulation" strokes, or strokes in the "back of the head."

Although benign, these sensations can be quite troubling. If the discomfort is intense, I typically recommend the use of a low-dose antidepressant (like amitriptyline) or an anti-epileptic (like gabapentin). However, before prescribing such a medicine, your husband's physician should evaluate him for potential side effects and to see if the pain is coming from a more mundane source, such as sensitive nerves, skin, or muscle in the scalp and neck.