February 20, 2006

Docs More apt to Pen Headache Script for Women

NEW YORK -- Women are more likely to consult their doctor about headaches or migraine, and are more likely to come away with a prescription to treat the problem than are men, according to a study conducted in the UK.

Headache, including migraine, is one of the top 10 reasons for consulting a doctor and is the most common neurological symptom encountered by family doctors and neurologists, Dr. Martin Gulliford from King's College London and colleagues report in the Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery and Psychiatry.

Over a 9-year period in 253 general practices across the UK, there were 570,795 patient-visits for headache made by 413,221 individuals aged 15 or older, the report indicates.

Women were almost three times more likely than men to see their doctor about headache symptoms, and rates for both sexes were highest among people 15 to 24 years old. Visits to the doctor because of headache decreased with age.

During the 9-year study period, doctors wrote a total of 189,065 prescriptions for specific anti-migraine drugs, Gulliford and colleagues report. These drugs were prescribed to about one in three women and to one in four men.

Middle-aged women between 45 and 54 years were most apt to leave the doctor's office with a prescription for an anti-migraine medication, according to the report. In men, prescribing patterns varied little with age.

Six percent of headache patients were referred for tests or for specialist care, and men were more likely than women to be referred.

Over half of these referrals were to neurologists -- something to think about, the authors say, noting that in the neurologist workforce in the UK is roughly one tenth of that in other Western countries.

"Given this lack of capacity, headache referrals compete with other conditions for scarce resources," Gulliford and colleagues write.

SOURCE: Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery, and Psychiatry, February 2006.