Primary cough headache, primary exertional headache, and primary headache associated with sexual activity: a clinical and radiological study

Neuroradiology. 2013 Feb;55(3):297-305. doi: 10.1007/s00234-012-1110-0. Epub 2012 Nov 2.


Introduction: The purposes of this study are to describe clinical features of primary cough headache, primary exertional headache, and primary headache associated with sexual activity and to evaluate potential association with abnormalities in the cerebral or cervical venous circulation.

Methods: This multicentre, observational, non-interventional consecutive cohort study included patients fulfilling ICHD-II criteria for primary cough headache (N = 10), primary exertional headache (N = 11), or primary headache associated with sexual activity (N = 20), as well as 16 headache-free controls. Each patient was evaluated clinically and underwent craniocervical MRV of the cranial circulation. All scans were interpreted centrally by blinded raters, using the Farb criteria proposed for idiopathic intracranial hypertension. Stenosis was defined as a Farb score <3 in left or right transverse sinuses or jugular veins.

Results: In all primary headache groups, headaches were most frequently diffuse, severe, or very severe. Headache duration was significantly shorter in patients with cough headache (median 6.5 versus 20 and 60 min). An exploitable magnetic resonance venogram was obtained for 36 patients. Stenosis was detected in none of the control group, but in 5/7 patients with primary cough headache group, 2/10 patients with primary exertion headache, and 12/19 patients with primary headache associated with sexual activity. The frequency of stenosis was significantly different from the control group in the primary cough headache and primary headache associated with sexual activity groups.

Conclusions: Headaches provoked by cough and sexual activity are possibly associated with venous abnormalities in a significant subgroup of affected patients. As the literature shows conflicting results, this venous stenosis can be considered as a promoting factor.

Publication types

  • Multicenter Study

MeSH terms

  • Cerebrovascular Circulation*
  • Female
  • France
  • Headache Disorders, Primary / complications
  • Headache Disorders, Primary / physiopathology*
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Angiography
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Sexual Behavior*
  • Venous Insufficiency / complications
  • Venous Insufficiency / physiopathology*