Headaches may have a wide range of impact on patients' lives. We report the results of Italian studies in which disability and health-related quality of life (HRQOL) in patients with different primary headaches were evaluated. The Short Form 36 (SF-36) was used to assess HRQOL; the Migraine Disability Assessment Score questionnaire (MIDAS) was used to assess disability in patients with migraine without aura or with chronic migraine. Mean MIDAS total scores were evaluated in migraine without aura and chronic migraine patients. The scores at the eight SF-36 scales were calculated in patients with the three studied headaches, and were compared with Italian normative data (Student's t-test with Bonferroni correction). Primary headaches had a considerable negative impact on patients' lives, with poor quality of life and decreased ability to function in daily duties. The mean MIDAS total score was 23.4 in 264 patients with migraine without aura, and 79.2 in 150 patients with chronic migraine. Mean SF-36 scores in migraine without aura (68 subjects), chronic migraine (84) and cluster headache (56) were lower than those from the Italian general population, with significant differences for 3 scales in migraine without aura, for 6 in chronic migraine, and for all scales in cluster headache. Our results confirmed a marked personal and social burden in patients with migraine without aura, and also in the less well-studied forms of primary headaches, cluster headache and chronic migraine.