Psychosocial correlates and impact of chronic tension-type headaches

Headache. 2000 Jan;40(1):3-16. doi: 10.1046/j.1526-4610.2000.00001.x.


Objectives: To examine the psychosocial correlates of chronic tension-type headache and the impact of chronic tension-type headache on work, social functioning, and well-being.

Methods: Two hundred forty-five patients (mean age = 37.0 years) with chronic tension-type headache as a primary presenting problem completed an assessment protocol as part of a larger treatment outcome study. The assessment included a structured diagnostic interview, the Medical Outcomes Study Short Form, Disability Days/Impairment Ratings, Recurrent Illness Impact Profile, Beck Depression Inventory, State-Trait Anxiety Inventory-Trait Form, Primary Care Evaluation for Mental Disorders, and the Hassles Scale Short Form. Comparisons were made with matched controls (N = 89) and, secondarily, with Medical Outcomes Study data for the general population, arthritis, and back problem samples.

Results: About two thirds of those with chronic tension-type headache recorded daily or near daily (> or =25 days per month) headaches with few (12%) recording headaches on less than 20 days per month. Despite the fact that patients reported that their headaches had occurred at approximately the present frequency for an average of 7 years, chronic tension-type headache sufferers were largely lapsed consulters (54% of subjects) or current consulters in primary care (81% of consulters). Significant impairments in functioning and well-being were evident in chronic tension-type headache and were captured by each of the assessment devices. Although headache-related disability days were reported by 74% of patients (mean = 7 days in previous 6 months), work or social functioning was severely impaired in only a small minority of patients. Sleep, energy level, and emotional well-being were frequently impaired with about one third of patients recording impairments in these areas on 10 or more days per month. Most patients with chronic tension-type headache continued to carry out daily life responsibilities when in pain, although role performance at times was clearly impaired by headaches and well-being was frequently impaired. Chronic tension-type headache sufferers were 3 to 15 times more likely than matched controls to receive a diagnosis of an anxiety or mood disorder with almost half of the patients exhibiting clinically significant levels of anxiety or depression. Affective distress and severity of headaches (Headache Index) were important determinants of headache impact/impairment.

Conclusions: Chronic tension-type headache has a greater impact on individuals' lives than has generally been realized, with affective distress being an important correlate of impairment. If treatment is to remedy impairment in functioning, affective distress, as well as pain, thus needs to be addressed.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Chronic Disease
  • Disabled Persons
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mental Disorders / complications
  • Middle Aged
  • Psychological Tests
  • Quality of Life*
  • Tension-Type Headache / complications
  • Tension-Type Headache / psychology*