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Neurology, Autonomic Disorders, Headaches  



What are headaches?


Despite the common definition, headache is actually a complex field of medicine, with an elaborate classification system, diverse mechanisms and causes and various treatment options available to headache sufferers.  Yet, despite an extensive research initiative and the knowledge that has emerged as a result, a cure for headache is still awaiting discovery.


Headaches are very common.  Doctors estimate that approximately 90% of men and 95% of women experience at least 1 headache within a given year.  The American public spends about $2 billion annually on over-the-counter medications for the treatment of headache.


Headache is a broad term that encompasses a wide variety of headache syndromes.  It helps to separate headaches into 2 general categories: primary headaches and secondary headaches.


  • A primary headache is a headache that is not a symptom of, or caused by, another disease or condition.  Examples of primary headache include migraine with and without aura, tension-type headache and cluster headache.  Most people suffer from the primary headache.


  • A secondary headache is a symptom of, or caused by, another underlying disease or condition, such as infection or a brain tumor.  Secondary headaches are often more serious, and can be more dangerous, than primary headaches.  Fortunately, secondary headaches are rare.


What are migraines?


Migraine is a primary headache disorder affecting approximately 28 million Americans. Migraine sufferers include 18% of women and 6% of men.  Migraine prevalence is similar among boys and girls during childhood, but with onset of puberty, the prevalence of migraine increases significantly in women.


Migraine is a neurologic disorder that causes episodic attacks of severe headache and associated neurologic symptoms of nausea, vomiting, sensitivity to light or sound, dizziness, cognitive changes and lethargy.


Migraine is a pain condition that can be severe and disabling, and many migraine sufferers are unable to work during a migraine attack.  The impact of migraine is vast, affecting not only productivity and employment, but also family and social life, relationships, and an overall sense of well-being.  Researchers estimate that migraine costs Americans $13 billion annually.






American Headache Society Handbook:  Brainstorm.  A CME-accredited collaborative symposium on diagnosing and treating migraine.  2004.  www.americanheadachesociety.org


Meeks, J. Highlights of the 5th Annual Association of Family Practice Physician Assistants (AFPPA) Conference: Headache Management, Evaluation and Treatment, 2003; www.medscape.com


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Copyright © 2010, Svetlana Blitshteyn MD PC