Public Release: 

More Education, More Headaches

Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health

Women get more tension headaches than men and people with advanced degrees suffer more often from tension headaches than the less educated, according to a recent study of tension headache prevalence conducted by researchers at the Johns Hopkins University School of Public Health. The study, which was the first large-scale population survey in the United States to describe the epidemiology of tension-type headaches, appears in the Feb. 4, 1998, issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Lead author Brian Schwartz, MD, MS, associate professor, Environmental Health Sciences, said, "Tension headaches are very common and have a large impact on society in terms of days lost from work and decreased ability to work effectively." Dr. Schwartz looked at the occurrence of both episodic tension-type headaches (ETTH) and chronic tension-type headaches (CTTH) over a one-year period in 13,345 people in Baltimore County, Md., using the International Headache Society (IHS) criteria to define a headache.

Overall, 38.3 percent of those surveyed met IHS criteria for ETTH in the last year, women more often than men. ETTH was most common among women (46.9 percent) and men (42.3 percent) age 30 to 39, with rates declining as people aged. The rate of headaches was higher among the more educated. People who had graduate school educations showed the highest rate of prevalence (48.9 percent for women and 48.5 percent for men.) The one-year prevalence rate for chronic tension-type headache, requiring at least 15 attacks per month, was much lower, about 2.2 percent overall.

Of those who reported episodic tension-type headaches, 8.3 percent said that they had stayed home from work because of the headache. A total of 43.6 percent said that they were less effective because of their headaches not only at work but also in their personal lives and at school.

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