[Headache in the elderly]

Schmerz. 2008 Feb;22 Suppl 1:22-30. doi: 10.1007/s00482-007-0609-5.
[Article in German]


Chronic headache is still a frequent problem in old age, affecting about 10% of all women and 5% of all men older than 70 years. The incidence of primary headache decreases with advancing age, while that of secondary headache increases. The clinical characteristics of migraine can also change with age; for example, vegetative symptoms are less prominent, and less intense migrainous pain localized predominantly in the neck is frequently reported. Migraine aura can also be experienced more frequently in isolation, without a headache. Hypnic headache is a rare primary headache syndrome that occurs almost exclusively in the elderly. Most of the secondary headache syndromes that occur more frequently in old age present clinically as tension-type headache. Examples of rather common reasons for secondary headache syndromes in the elderly are intracranial space-occupying lesions, ophthalmological problems and autoimmune diseases such as giant cell arteritis. Elderly patients are especially likely to have a number of illnesses at any one time for which they take various medications each day, so that headaches can also quite often be caused by their medication or by withdrawal of these. As a result of such multimorbidity the homeostasis is disturbed in such patients, leading to various conditions that can entail concomitant headaches (sleep apnoea syndrome, dialysis headache, headache attributed to arterial hypertension or hypothyroidism). Familiar facial neuralgias, such as trigeminal neuralgia or postherpetic neuralgia following manifest herpes zoster affecting the face, become markedly more frequent with age. In general, in the treatment of headaches in the elderly it is essential to pay careful attention to potential interactions with the multiple drugs needed because of other diseases; in addition, the comorbidities themselves have to be taken into account, especially depression, anxiety and cognitive impairment, necessitating multimodal, interdisciplinary therapy plans.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • English Abstract
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Age Factors
  • Aged
  • Cluster Headache / drug therapy
  • Female
  • Giant Cell Arteritis / complications
  • Headache Disorders* / diagnosis
  • Headache Disorders* / drug therapy
  • Headache Disorders* / epidemiology
  • Headache Disorders* / etiology
  • Headache Disorders, Primary / diagnosis
  • Headache Disorders, Primary / drug therapy
  • Headache Disorders, Primary / epidemiology
  • Headache Disorders, Secondary / diagnosis
  • Headache Disorders, Secondary / epidemiology
  • Headache* / diagnosis
  • Headache* / drug therapy
  • Headache* / epidemiology
  • Headache* / etiology
  • Homeostasis
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Migraine Disorders / drug therapy
  • Neuralgia, Postherpetic / diagnosis
  • Prevalence
  • Sex Factors
  • Trigeminal Neuralgia / diagnosis