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Triggers May Guide Treatment of New Daily Persistent Headache

Aggressive initial therapy is appropriate because the disorder becomes increasingly refractory with time.


ASHEVILLE, NC—New daily persistent headache is rare and difficult to treat. Although neurologists may be tempted to try a series of treatments until the patient improves, therapeutic success is more likely if the neurologist can identify a triggering event, said Todd Rozen, MD, a neurologist at Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, Florida. Elements of the patient’s history or clinical examination also can guide treatment, he added at the Eighth Annual Scientific Meeting of the Southern Headache Society.

Patients Remember the Onset

New daily persistent headache was first described in 1986, and few researchers have studied it. It is a persistent headache with a clearly remembered onset. “Most [patients] can name the date it began or at least the month,” said Dr. Rozen. The headache becomes unremitting within 24 hours and must be present for longer than three months, according to the current diagnostic criteria. Patients may have a remitting form, a relapsing-remitting form, or a refractory form of the headache. The age of onset “can be as early as in the mid to late teens or early 20s, especially in the female population,” said Dr. Rozen. Age of onset also depends on the triggering event.

The pain typically is bilateral and moderate to severe. Although many patients may present with a tension-type headache, more than 60% have migrainous symptoms such as nausea, photophobia, or phonophobia, said Dr. Rozen.

The disorder is more common among women than among men. Between 10% and 13% of patients who present to headache clinics have new daily persistent headache, said Dr. Rozen. “It is either becoming more prevalent in the office, or we are better at recognizing it.”

Comparing Effects on the Genders

For a study published in 2016, Dr. Rozen examined 97 patients (65 women) with new daily persistent headache. Approximately 53% of patients could not identify a triggering event for their headache, which makes treatment “much more difficult,” said Dr. Rozen. Although the mean age of onset was younger in women (32.4) than men (35.8), the age of onset was the same between genders when Dr. Rozen examined for individual triggers.

The frequency of individual triggering events also was the same between genders, and these results suggest that each trigger may be associated with a discrete pathogenesis. Triggers included infection or flulike illness (22%), stressful life event (9%), surgery (9%), and other (7%). All patients who had identified surgery as a trigger had been intubated, and Dr. Rozen hypothesized that their headaches were cervicogenic. The younger patients who had undergone surgery were hypermobile, and the older patients had neck arthritis as predisposing risk factors for neck irritation with intubation.

A Somatoform Disorder?

The stubbornly refractory nature of this disorder has aroused the suspicion that it may be somatoform. In 2017, Uniyal and colleagues found that somatization, generalized anxiety disorder, depression, and catastrophization were more common in patients with new daily persistent headache, compared with patients with chronic low back pain and healthy controls.

Interpreting these data is difficult, said Dr. Rozen. They may indicate that these psychiatric comorbidities are risk factors for new daily persistent headache. An equally plausible interpretation is that these patients have a different disorder (eg, Ehlers-Danlos syndrome) that encompasses these common traits. Finally, symptoms such as depression and catastrophization may be sequelae of, rather than risk factors for, new daily persistent headache.

Researchers have found imaging abnormalities to be rare in patients with new daily persistent headache. About two-thirds of patients in a 2002 study had normal MRI or CT results, and the rest had nonspecific findings unrelated to the headache. Dr. Rozen found that white matter lesions were uncommon in patients with this disorder, except for those with a history of migraine or cardiovascular or cerebrovascular risk factors. CSF likewise generally is normal in patients with new daily persistent headache.

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