The aim of the present study was to assess the distribution and characteristics of headache in children aged 7-14 years in Lower Saxony (Germany). For the survey, 8800 households with children were randomly drawn from community registers. Parents received comprehensive questionnaires regarding various aspects of their child's headache history and general health by mail. The response rate was 63.5%. The 6-month prevalence of paediatric headache was 53.2% and increased with age (39% at 7 years to 63% at age 14). Overall, recurrent headache (> or =1/week) was experienced by 6.5% of the total sample and was significantly more common among older girls (> or =11 years) than their male counterparts. Boys and girls did not differ markedly from one another regarding headache occurrence and frequency until the age of 11. Mean age of headache onset was 7.5 years, with onset occurring at a significantly younger age among boys than among girls. In accordance with International Classification of Headache Disorders-II criteria, migraine was diagnosed in 7.5% and tension-type headache in 18.5% of the cases, hence a large proportion of the children had unclassifiable headache. Of the headache disorders, migraine was rated the most disabling, with the highest average intensity, highest frequency, duration of headache often exceeding 2 h and more frequent use of medication. In general, aura symptoms were rare except for visual disturbances (17%). Paediatric headache was strongly associated with other health problems, including other pain symptoms. Paediatric headache was also associated with a history of parental headache.