Refractory Headache: Classification and Nomenclature

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There are a number of reasons to attempt to define and classify refractory headache disorders. Particularly important are the potential benefits in the areas of research, treatment, and medical cost reimbursement. There are challenges in attempting to classify refractory forms of headaches, including the lack of biological or other objective markers and a lack of consensus among practitioners as to what qualifies as refractoriness, or even if a separate category for refractory migraine and other refractory headaches needs to be established. A definition of refractory migraine has been proposed by Schulman et al in this issue (“Defining Refractory Migraine [RM] and Refractory Chronic Migraine [RCM]: Proposed Criteria for the Refractory Headache Special Interests Section of the American Headache Society”), which should be tested for validity and usefulness. It seems reasonable to consider adding this defined syndrome to the International Classification of Headache Disorders, second edition (ICHD-II). In this article, options for adding refractory headache syndromes to the ICHD are discussed with pros and cons for each. Two “best” options for adding the disorder “refractory migraine” to the ICHD are presented along with an illustrative case example.

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