Disability and quality of life in headache: where we are now and where we are heading

Neurol Sci. 2013 May;34 Suppl 1:S1-5. doi: 10.1007/s10072-013-1378-9.


Headache disorders determine relevant personal and societal burden, and thus the use of patient-reported outcome measures (PROMs) investigating the level of disability and health-related quality of life (HRQoL) have been increasingly used in headache research. The aim of this review was to address the status of research on disability and HRQoL, by addressing results from recently published clinical trials as well as in longitudinal observational studies on headache patients. PubMed has been searched for papers in which measures of HRQoL and/or disability were used as primary or secondary outcome on adult subjects with primary headache, and published in 2010-2012. Among the 70 records retrieved, 12 papers were selected for narrative synthesis. They included data on 2,621 patients with episodic migraine with and without aura, chronic daily headache, and/or chronic migraine with and without medication overuse. The selected trials investigated the efficacy of different pharmacological prophylaxis, of some surgical approaches, of education programmes and osteopathic manipulative treatment; two studies reported longitudinal observations of patients currently under treatment. Overall, the results of our review showed that headache frequency as well as HRQoL and disability were positively impacted by treatment interventions; positive outcomes were less evident in two studies, and similar results were found in the two observational studies. Our findings confirmed that the most commonly used PROMs, including disease-specific tools to assess disability and HRQoL and SF-36, are sensitive to the beneficial effects occurring over time in functioning and quality of life domains in headache patients. They also suggest that the personal and societal costs of headache disorders are likely to be reduced when headache patients receive appropriate treatments and when continuity of care is offered. In terms of future directions, we note that the systematic use of appropriate PROMs should be encouraged both in the clinical practice and in the research field, as they offer a valid option to assess the global effect of treatments on patient-perceived sense of well-being and quality of performance.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Headache / complications*
  • Humans
  • Quality of Life*