Primary headache in Emergency Department: prevalence, clinical features and therapeutical approach

J Headache Pain. 2005 Sep;6(4):287-9. doi: 10.1007/s10194-005-0210-1.


Headache is one of the most common reported complaints in the general adult population and it accounts for between 1% and 3% of admissions to an Emergency Department (ED). The overwhelming majority of patients who present to an ED with acute primary headache (PH) have migraine and very few of them receive a specific diagnosis and then an appropriate treatment. This is due, in part, to a low likelihood of emergency physicians diagnosing the type of PH, in turn due to lack of knowledge of the IHS criteria, and also the clinical condition of the patients (pain, border type of headache, etc.) In agreement with the literature, another interesting aspect of data emerging from our experience is that few of the ED PH patients are referred to headache clinics for diagnosis and treatment, especially if they present with high levels of disability. This attitude promotes the high-cost phenomenon of repeater patients that have already been admitted to the ED for the same reason in the past. This is statistically important because it involves about 10% of the population with PH.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Acute Disease
  • Emergency Medical Services / methods
  • Emergency Medical Services / statistics & numerical data*
  • Headache Disorders, Primary* / diagnosis
  • Headache Disorders, Primary* / epidemiology
  • Headache Disorders, Primary* / therapy
  • Humans
  • Prevalence