Prescription Headache Medication in OEF/OIF Veterans: Results From the Women Veterans Cohort Study

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Abstract

Objective.

To examine differences in male and female veterans of Operations Enduring Freedom/Iraqi Freedom (OEF/OIF) period of service in taking prescription headache medication, and associations between taking prescription headache medication and mental health status, psychiatric symptoms, and rates of traumatic events.

Background.

Headaches are common among active service members and are associated with impairment in quality of life. Little is known about headaches in OEF/OIF veterans.

Methods.

Veterans participating in the Women Veterans Cohort Study responded to a cross-sectional survey to assess taking prescription headache medication, mental health status (Post Deployment Health Assessment), psychiatric symptoms (portions of the Brief Patient Health Questionnaire and the Posttraumatic Stress Disorder Checklist), and traumatic events (the Traumatic Life Events Questionnaire and queries regarding military trauma). Gender differences among taking prescription headache medication, health status, psychiatric symptoms, and traumatic events were examined. Regression analyses were used to examine the influence of gender on the associations between taking prescription headache medication and health status, psychiatric symptoms, and traumatic events.

Results.

139/551 (25.2%) participants reported taking prescription headache medication in the past year. A higher proportion of women veterans (29.1%) reported taking prescription medication for headache in the last year compared with men (19.7%). Taking prescription headache medication was associated with poorer perceived mental health status, higher anxiety and posttraumatic stress disorder symptoms, and higher rates of traumatic events. The association between prescription headache medication use and perceived mental health status, and with the association between prescription headache medication use and posttraumatic stress disorder symptoms, was stronger for men than for women.

Conclusions.

Among OEF/OIF veterans, the prevalence of clinically relevant headache is high, particularly among women veterans. Taking prescription headache medication is associated with poor mental health status, higher rates of psychiatric symptoms, and higher rates of traumatic events; however, these variables did not appear to meaningfully account for gender differences in prevalence of taking prescription headache medication. Future research should endeavor to identify factors that might account for the observed differences.

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