Systematic literature review on the delays in the diagnosis and misdiagnosis of cluster headache

Neurol Sci. 2019 Jan;40(1):25-39. doi: 10.1007/s10072-018-3598-5. Epub 2018 Oct 10.


Introduction: Patients with cluster headache (CH), the most common trigeminal autonomic cephalalgia, often face delayed diagnosis, misdiagnosis and mismanagement.

Objectives: To identify, appraise and synthesise clinical studies on the delays in diagnosis and misdiagnosis of CH in order to determine its causes and help the management of this condition.

Methods: The systematic review was prepared, conducted and reported in accordance with the Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. It was registered with International Prospective Register of Systematic Reviews. A systematic search of different electronic databases (Medline, EMBASE, PsycINFO, PubMed, CINAHL, BNI, HMIC, AMED, HBE and Cochrane Library) was carried out in May 2017. Reference lists of relevant articles were hand searched.

Results: The search identified 201 unique studies. Fifteen studies met the inclusion criteria of which 13 case series studies and two survey studies. Nine studies assessed the delays in diagnosis and misdiagnosis of CH, five studies the delays in diagnosis and one study the misdiagnosis of CH. The studies included 4661 patients. Delays in diagnosis, misdiagnosis and mismanagement have been reported in many European countries, Japan and in the USA with well-developed health services. The patients with CH often visited many different clinicians, surgeons and dentists and received multiple diagnosis prior to being correctly diagnosed.

Conclusion: This systematic review shows that the delays in the diagnosis of CH are a widespread problem, the time to diagnosis still vary from country to country and both patients and physicians are responsible for the delays in diagnosis.

Keywords: Diagnostic error; Diagnostic mistake; Mismanagement; Therapeutic error; Unrecognised diagnosis.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Cluster Headache / diagnosis*
  • Cluster Headache / epidemiology
  • Cluster Headache / therapy
  • Delayed Diagnosis / adverse effects*
  • Delayed Diagnosis / prevention & control
  • Delayed Diagnosis / trends*
  • Diagnostic Errors / adverse effects*
  • Diagnostic Errors / prevention & control
  • Diagnostic Errors / trends*
  • Humans
  • Prospective Studies
  • Retrospective Studies