Pain treatment and relief among patients with primary headache subtypes in the ED

Arleigh Trainor, James Miner

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

15 Scopus citations


Objective: The aim of this study is to determine if emergency physicians treat headache subtypes differently and if this difference affects pain relief. Methods: This was a prospective observational, institutional review board-approved study of adults undergoing treatment for a primary headache. Before the treatment and 60 minutes after, patients completed a 100-mm Visual Analog Scale (VAS) describing their pain. Patients also completed a headache diagnosis worksheet that differentiated headache type based on International Headache Society criteria. Treatments were recorded. Data were analyzed using descriptive statistics, 95% confidence intervals, analysis of variance, and χ2 tests as appropriate. Results: A total of 184 patients were enrolled: 83 (45.1%) with migraine, 61 (33.2%) with migrainous, and 40 (21.7%) with tension-type headaches. There was no difference in the presenting VAS score or treatments of the 3 headache subtypes. The migraine group was most likely to receive any pain medication (78.31%), and the tension group the least likely to receive any pain medication (62.50%). A 50% decrease in VAS was achieved by only 32.5% of the patients. Sumatriptan, followed by droperidol, provided the greatest decrease in VAS scores. Oral and parenteral narcotics provided equivalent pain relief, with nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) providing the least pain relief. Conclusion: There was no difference in the treatments used or pain relief achieved between migraine, migrainous, and tension-type headaches. The differentiation of primary headache subtypes does not appear to be important to their treatment in the acute setting of the emergency department.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1029-1034
Number of pages6
JournalAmerican Journal of Emergency Medicine
Issue number9
StatePublished - Nov 2008


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