One-Year Follow-Up of Headache in an Adult General Population


  • Helen F. Boardman PhD,

  • Elaine Thomas PhD,

  • David S. Millson MD, PhD,

  • Peter R. Croft MD

  • From the Primary Care Sciences Research Centre, Keele University, UK (Drs. Boardman, Thomas, and Croft); and the Department of Medicines Management, Keele University, UK (Drs. Boardman and Millson).

Address all correspondence to Dr. Helen Boardman, Primary Care Sciences Research Centre, Keele University, Keele, Staffordshire, UK.


Objective.—To investigate variation in headache occurrence and characteristics over 1 year.

Background.—Headache is a common condition which can affect the work, home, and social lives of sufferers, yet surprisingly little is known about how headache changes over time.

Methods.—Postal survey to a random general population sample of 5000 adults aged 18 years plus, with follow-up survey to all baseline responders at 1 year and a subsample of 500 being surveyed at 3-monthly intervals between the baseline and 1-year surveys.

Results.—A total of 1589 (74% response) responded to the 1-year follow-up and 282 of the subsample responded to all five surveys at 3-monthly intervals. Among 1-year respondents with recent headache at baseline (defined as occurring during the previous 3 months), nearly all (94%) also reported headache during the follow-up year. One-third of respondents without recent headache at baseline reported a new episode of headache during the follow-up year. Most (85%) respondents with recent headache at both baseline and 1-year follow-up reported a variation in at least one headache characteristic. These findings were replicated in the sample completing the 3-monthly surveys. Although most of this subgroup reported their headache occurrence status was unchanged during each 3-month period, only a few (3%) respondents with headache in each period reported no variation at all in headache characteristics during the study.

Conclusions.—While prevalence of recent headache was stable over time for individuals, there was considerable variation in headache characteristics.