Epidemiology of tension-type headache

JAMA. 1998 Feb 4;279(5):381-3. doi: 10.1001/jama.279.5.381.


Context: Tension-type headache is a highly prevalent condition. Because few population-based studies have been performed, little is known about its epidemiology.

Objectives: To estimate the 1-year period prevalence of episodic tension-type headache (ETTH) and chronic tension-type headache (CTTH) in a population-based study; to describe differences in 1-year period prevalence by sex, age, education, and race; and to describe attack frequency and headache pain intensity.

Design: Telephone survey conducted 1993 to 1994.

Setting: Baltimore County, Maryland.

Participants: A total of 13 345 subjects from the community.

Main outcome measures: Percentage of respondentswith diagnoses of headache using International Headache Society criteria. Workdays lost and reduced effectiveness at work, home, and school because of headache, based on self-report.

Results: The overall prevalence of ETTH in the past year was 38.3%. Women had a higher 1-year ETTH prevalence than men in all age, race, and education groups, with an overall prevalence ratio of 1.16. Prevalence peaked in the 30- to 39-year-old age group in both men (42.3%) and women (46.9%). Whites had a higher 1-year prevalence than African Americans in men (40.1% vs. 22.8%) and women (46.8% vs 30.9%). Prevalence increased with increasing educational levels in both sexes, reaching a peak in subjects with graduate school educations of 48.5% for men and 48.9% for women. The 1-year period prevalence of CTTH was 2.2%; prevalence was higher in women and declined with increasing education. Of subjects with ETTH, 8.3% reported lost workdays because of their headaches, while 43.6% reported decreased effectiveness at work, home, or school. Subjects with CTTH reported more lost workdays (mean of 27.4 days vs 8.9 days for those reporting lost workdays) and reduced-effectiveness days (mean of 20.4 vs 5.0 days for those reporting reduced effectiveness) compared with subjects with ETTH.

Conclusions: Episodic tension-type headache is a highly prevalent condition with a significant functional impact at work, home, and school. Chronic tension-type headache is much less prevalent than ETTH; despite its greater individual impact, CTTH has a smaller societal impact than ETTH.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Absenteeism
  • Adult
  • Analysis of Variance
  • Black or African American / statistics & numerical data
  • Chronic Disease
  • Cost of Illness*
  • Educational Status
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Prevalence
  • Regression Analysis
  • Severity of Illness Index
  • Tension-Type Headache / classification
  • Tension-Type Headache / epidemiology*
  • White People / statistics & numerical data