Chronic frequent headache in the general population: prevalence and associated factors

Authors


  • N.J.W. contributed to all stages of the study and wrote the first draft of the paper. All other authors were involved in the design, interpretation of results, and redrafting of the paper. A.K.N. and M.D.F. supervised the conduct of the study.

N. J. Wiendels MD, Department of Neurology, K5Q-93, Leiden University Medical Centre, PO Box 9600, 2300 RC Leiden, the Netherlands. Tel. + 31 7 1526 1730, fax + 31 7 1524 8253, e-mail n.j.wiendels@lumc.nl

Abstract

We studied the prevalence and short-term natural course of chronic frequent headache (CFH) in the general population and identified risk factors. In the Netherlands everyone is registered at a single general practice. We sent questionnaires to all persons (n = 21 440) aged 25–55 years, registered at 16 general practices. We compared the characteristics of 177 participants with CFH (>14 headache days/month for >3 months) with 141 participants with infrequent headache (1–4 days/month) and 526 without headache (<1 day/month). The prevalence of CFH was 3.7% [95% confidence interval (CI) 3.4, 4.0]. In 5 months, 12% showed a clinically relevant decrease to <7 days/month. In both headache groups 70% were women vs. 41% in the group without headache. Compared with the group with infrequent headache, the CFH group had more subjects with low educational level [35% vs. 11%; odds ratio (OR) 4.3, 95% CI 2.3, 7.8], medication overuse (62% vs. 3%; OR 38.4, 95% CI 13.8, 106.9), sleeping problems (44% vs. 8%; OR 8.1, 95% CI 3.6, 18.1), a history of head/neck trauma (36% vs. 14%; OR 4.0, 95% CI 2.2, 7.1), high scores on the General Health Questionnaire (62% vs. 34%; OR 2.7, 95% CI 1.3, 3.6) and more smokers (45% vs. 19%; OR 3.1, 95% CI 1.9, 5.3). We conclude that headache frequency fluctuates. CFH is common and associated with overuse of analgesics, psychopathology, smoking, sleeping problems, a history of head/neck trauma and low educational level. Female sex is a risk factor for headache, not for chronification of headache.

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