Management of headache in the elderly

Matthew S. Robbins, Richard B. Lipton

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

20 Scopus citations


The diagnosis and management of headache disorders in the elderly are challenging. The evaluation of the elderly patient with new-onset or recurrent headache requires a grasp of the heterogeneous set of causes of secondary head pain disorders. Once such aetiologies are excluded, the correct primary headache disorder must be diagnosed. Although tension-type headache is the leading cause of new-onset headache in the elderly, other primary headache disorders such as migraine can manifest in later life, and one disorder, hypnic headache, occurs almost exclusively in the elderly. Primary chronic daily headache persists in elderly patients to a greater extent than the primary episodic headache disorders do. The treatment of elderly patients with primary headache disorders is multifaceted, including acute, prophylactic and at times transitional treatments. Knowledge of drug interactions is particularly important as polypharmacy is the rule. Concomitant illnesses may require adjustments in choice or dose of drugs. In addition, as many acute and preventive treatments are either contraindicated or poorly tolerated in the elderly, modifiable risk factors for headache progression and perpetuation must be addressed. In spite of these treatment complexities, there are numerous opportunities to bring relief to older patients with primary headache disorders from the currently available therapies. New treatment options for elderly patients with headache will soon be available, including acute, prophylactic and interventional techniques.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)377-398
Number of pages22
JournalDrugs and Aging
Issue number5
StatePublished - 2010


  • Antiepileptic-drugs
  • Beta-adrenergic-receptor-antagonists
  • Caffeine
  • Calcium-channel-antagonists
  • Elderly
  • Ergot-alkaloids
  • Headache
  • Therapeutic use

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geriatrics and Gerontology
  • Pharmacology (medical)


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