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Sensitivity to Various Stimuli in Primary Headaches: A Questionnaire Study


Address all correspondence to Dr. Jolanta Vanagaite Vingen, Department of Neurology, University Hospital of Trondheim, 7006 Trondheim, Norway.


Questions about discomfort or pain produced by various stimuli (eg, light, sound, exercise, neck movements) are currently used to differentiate between various primary headache disorders. In order to evaluate the usefulness of differences in sensitivity to physical stimuli in headache diagnosis, the answers to a questionnaire about sensitivity to various stimuli were compared in 68 patients with migraine, 45 with tension-type headache, 46 with cluster headache, and 23 patients with cervicogenic headache, and in 71 controls. Even among controls, a high proportion reported that many of these stimuli could elicit some degree of discomfort or pain. Without headache, migraineurs differed from the other patients with headache and controls mainly in their increased sensitivity to light. With headache, patients with tension-type headache were the least sensitive and migraineurs were the most sensitive to all stimuli, except for stimuli stemming from neck movements, to which patients with cervicogenic headache were most sensitive. Migraineurs also reported the highest degree of sensitivity regarding aggravation and provocation of headache. However, the most striking finding was that all patient groups, cluster headache in particular, became significantly more sensitive with headache than without headache to almost all stimulus categories. This may indicate that these headaches share important pathogenetic mechanisms. The fact that no headache had a very specific sensitivity profile may point to weaknesses of present headache classification systems.