Headaches common but neglected

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In the WHO European Region, 80% of adults (aged 18–65) have suffered from tension-type headache, and 15% have experienced migraine over the previous year, according to the “Atlas of headache disorders and resources in the world 2011” by WHO and Lifting the Burden. These rates are higher than in any other region. Further, 3.3% of adults in the Region experience headache on 15 or more days every month. Nevertheless, these disorders are underrecognized, underdiagnosed and undertreated.

Treating headaches

Of people in the Region suffering from headache, 40% treat themselves, without contact with health professionals, owing in part to the infrequency of headaches for many. Of the remainder, 20% consult their doctors; 20% consult neurologists and 10% seek alternative or complementary treatments.

Educating people on how to treat their headaches efficiently and effectively, and avoid overusing medicine, is important. In contrast, the percentage of people with headache seen by neurologists is far too high, and suggests the need to expand primary-care management of the condition.

Similarly, headache disorders account for only four hours of undergraduate medical training, but represent a high proportion of medical practice. Better education for health workers would improve the usage of available treatments, lead to better outcomes and lower overall costs.