Proposals for new standardized general diagnostic criteria for the secondary headaches


Prof. Jes Olesen, Danish Headache Centre, Department of Neurology, Glostrup Hospital, University of Copenhagen, 2600, Copenhagen, Denmark. E-mail,


Olesen J, Steiner T, Bousser M-G, Diener H-C, Dodick D, First MB, Goadsby PJ, Göbel H, Lainez MJA, Lipton RB, Nappi G, Sakai F, Schoenen J & Silberstein SD. Proposals for new standardized general diagnostic criteria for the secondary headaches. Cephalalgia 2009. London. ISSN 0333-1024

Headache classification is a dynamic process through clinical testing and re-testing of current and proposed criteria. After publication of the second edition of the International Classification of Headache Disorders (ICHD-II), need arose for revisions in the classification of medication overuse headache and chronic migraine. These changes made apparent a further need for broader revisions to the standard formulation of diagnostic criteria for the secondary headaches. Currently, the fourth criterion makes impossible the definitive diagnosis of a secondary headache until the underlying cause has resolved or been cured or greatly ameliorated by therapy, at which time the headache may no longer be present. Given that the main purpose of diagnostic criteria is to enable a diagnosis at the onset of a disease in order to guide treatment, this is unhelpful in clinical practice. In the present paper we propose maintaining a standard approach to the secondary headaches using a set of four criteria A, B, C and D, but we construct these so that the requirement for resolution or successful treatment is removed. The proposal for general diagnostic criteria for the secondary headaches will be entered into the internet-based version of the appendix of ICHD-II. During 2009 the Classification Committee will apply the general criteria to all the specific types of secondary headaches. These, and other changes, will be included in a revision of the entire classification entitled ICHD-IIR, expected to be published in 2010. ICHD-IIR will be printed and posted on the website and will be the official classification of the International Headache Society. Unfortunately, it will be necessary to translate ICHD-IIR into the many languages of the world, but the good news is that no major changes to the headache classification are then foreseen for the next 10 years. Until the printing of ICHD-IIR, the printed ICHD-II criteria remain in place for all other purposes. We issue a plea to the headache community to use and study these proposed general criteria for the secondary headaches in order to provide more evidence for their utility—before their incorporation in the main body of the classification.