Tension-type headache: the most common, but also the most neglected, headache disorder

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Abstract

Purpose of review

Tension-type headache is the most common type of headache and, in its chronic form, one of the most neglected and difficult types of headache to treat. Recently published data will be reviewed.

Recent findings

The prevalence of frequent tension-type headache increased significantly from 1989 to 2001, and several risk factors have been identified. The incidence decreases markedly with age. The prognosis is fairly favorable for the episodic forms. Chronic tension-type headache, coexisting migraine, sleep problems and not being married were identified as risk factors for a poor outcome. Previous reports of sensitization of the central nervous system in patients with chronic tension-type headache were confirmed by the findings of generalized pain hypersensitivity both in skin and in muscles, and of a decrease in the volume of gray matter in brain structures. A promising new animal model of tension-type headache has been developed. In addition, the efficacy of a prophylactic drug, mirtazapine, with fewer side-effects than the tricyclic antidepressants has been demonstrated.

Summary

The new data on the prevalence, incidence and prognosis of tension-type headache are valuable for health care planning and in daily clinical practice. The increased knowledge with regard to abnormal central pain modulation, together with the development of an animal model, hold promise for much-needed improvements in the understanding of pathophysiological mechanisms and treatment.

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