The aim of the population-based Dortmund health study (DHS) is the assessment of the prevalence and incidence of different headache types as well as other chronic conditions and to analyse their consequences on daily activities of those affected. From 2003 to 2004 overall 2,291 participants were recruited into the study, 1,312 attended the study centre and the others participated by answering a mailed questionnaire. In 2006 a follow-up by mailed questionnaire was performed for 77.8% of the survivors. The influence of social factors was specifically considered in the analysis and interpretation of disease consequences. The following manuscript describes the study design, method of participant recruitment, data assessment and examinations performed in the study and reports the results of the association between neighbourhood unemployment and the prevalence of cardiac risk factors as well as the prevalence of several chronic diseases.