Introduction: Headache is one of the most frequent symptoms that people suffer in their daily life. However, the available studies have been made in populations who ask for medical advice or in small geographical areas.
Objectives: The present survey was devoted to establish the prevalence of headache in the general population of Catalonia, as well as to establish its characteristics, the therapeutic behavior that was followed by those affected and the consequences for the sufferers.
Patients and methods: The survey included a sample of 1,964 people, who were representative of the population older than 18 years, and was obtained from the census. The data were obtained by means of a telephone interview. The prevalence of pain in the last six months was established. Among the sufferers of headaches, additional information was obtained concerning its characteristics, its relationship with socio demographic characteristics and the therapeutic behaviors used by patients. The degree of impairment and disability secondary to headache was also determined.
Results: The prevalence was 42%, and it was the highest in women (52.8 vs 31.1%) young people (mean age of 43.4 16 years), unskilled manual workers, middle level managers and technicians and those with university studies. Headaches had a long duration (84.4%, more than 3 years); the episodes were frequent, of short duration and or severe intensity (61.2% were severe unbearable). Self medication was the therapeutic behavior most commonly used (52.3%, being acetylsalicylic acid the most employed), followed by visit to the physician (47.4%, being the prescription of paracetamol the preferred treatment) and some alternative medical treatments (16.1%). Headaches limited the daily activities of the sufferers (31.4%), forced to bed rest (23.4%) and even resulted in time off work (4.6%). All personal, social and work impairments had short duration in most individuals.
Conclusions: Headache has a high prevalence in the general population. Although the episodes had a brief duration and self medication was commonly used, pain is frequently severe, limits the daily activities and sufferers often visit the physicians to obtain relief. Headaches should not be considered as a minor health disorder.