Overview of Common and Important Headache Disorders

  • Timothy J. Steiner
  • Paolo Martelletti
Reference work entry


The purpose of this chapter is to provide a summary of headache disorders that are common or important in primary care. Later chapters cover all aspects in greater detail.

The key headache disorders are primary – migraine, tension-type headache, and cluster headache. A relatively small number of secondary headache disorders may be seen in primary care and are important because they are serious and need to be recognized.

Collectively, headache disorders are common and ubiquitous. They have a neurological basis, but headache rarely signals serious underlying illness. The huge public-health importance of headache arises from its causal association with personal and societal burdens of pain, disability, damaged quality of life, and financial cost.

Headache disorders have many types and subtypes, but a very small number of them impose almost all of these burdens. Most of these can be effectively treated. They are diagnosed clinically, requiring no special investigations. Their management belongs in primary care.

Mismanagement and overuse of medications to treat acute headache are major risk factors for disease aggravation.


Cluster Headache Headache Disorder Idiopathic Intracranial Hypertension Secondary Headache Primary Headache Disorder 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



The text of this chapter is closely based on educational materials developed for primary-care physicians by Lifting The Burden: the Global Campaign Against Headache.


  1. International Headache Society Classification Subcommittee (2004) The international classification of headache disorders, 2nd edn. Cephalalgia 24(Suppl 1):S1–S160Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Lifting The Burden 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of NeuroscienceNorwegian University of Science and TechnologyTrondheimNorway
  2. 2.Department of NeuroscienceFaculty of Medicine, Imperial College LondonLondonUK
  3. 3.Department of Medical and Molecular SciencesSchool of Health Sciences, Sapienza University of RomeRomeItaly

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