To delineate the differences in clinical characteristics and evaluate the outcome between primary and secondary cough headache, 83 consecutive patients (59M/24F, mean age 61.5 ± 17.7 years) with cough headache (1.2%) out of 7100 patients in a headache clinic were studied. All of them received brain imaging studies. Most did not have relevant brain lesions (n = 74, 89.2%, primary group) except for nine patients (10.8%, the secondary group). Most of the intracranial lesions were located in the posterior fossa (n = 6, 67%), including only two patients with Chiari malformation. The primary group had a higher response rate to indomethacin than the secondary group (72.7% vs. 37.5 %, P = 0.046). Mild to moderate headache intensity and age onset < 50 years predicted a favourable response. At a mean follow-up of 51.4 months, 83.9% of patients with primary cough headache completely remitted. Inconsistent with the proposed International Classification of Headache Disorders, 2nd edn criteria, 10.8% of patients with primary cough headache had headache duration of > 30 min. Clinical features, neurological examinations and drug response could not safely differentiate primary from secondary cough headache. Neuroimaging studies are required in each patient.