To define the causes, clinical significance and characteristics of headaches in HIV-l-related disorders, we studied 49 consecutive HIV-1 infected patients who presented with headache. Work-up included CT scans, cerebrospinal fluid examinations (in the absence of a contraindication) and serologic studies. Overall, 40 of 49 patients (82 percent) had an identifiable serious cause of headache. Cryptococcal meningitis (39 percent) and CNS toxoplasmosis (16 percent) were the leading headache etiologies. Serious causes were more likely in patients diagnosed with AIDS prior to presentation but also occurred in most patients in early stages of infection. Based on this study, we suggest that patients with HIV-1 infection must be managed with a high index of suspicion when they present with new onset headaches.