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Open Access Research article

Experiences and perceptions of people with headache: a qualitative study

Deborah A Leiper12, Alison M Elliott2* and Philip C Hannaford2

Author Affiliations

1 Aberdeen Royal Infirmary, Westburn Road, Foresterhill, Aberdeen, AB25 2ZN, Scotland, UK

2 Department of General Practice and Primary Care, University of Aberdeen, Foresterhill Health Centre, Westburn Road, Aberdeen, AB25 2AY, Scotland, UK

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BMC Family Practice 2006, 7:27  doi:10.1186/1471-2296-7-27

Published: 2 May 2006

Abstract

Background

Few qualitative studies of headache have been conducted and as a result we have little in-depth understanding of the experiences and perceptions of people with headache. The aim of this paper was to explore the perceptions and experiences of individuals with headache and their experiences of associated healthcare and treatment.

Methods

A qualitative study of individuals with headache, sampled from a population-based study of chronic pain was conducted in the North-East of Scotland, UK. Seventeen semi-structured interviews were conducted with adults aged 65 or less. Interviews were analysed using the Framework approach utilising thematic analysis.

Results

Almost every participant reported that they were unable to function fully as a result of the nature and unpredictability of their headaches and this had caused disruption to their work, family life and social activities. Many also reported a negative impact on mood including feeling depressed, aggressive or embarrassed. Most participants had formed their own ideas about different aspects of their headache and several had searched for, or were seeking, increased understanding of their headache from a variety of sources. Many participants reported that their headaches caused them constant worry and anguish, and they were concerned that there was a serious underlying cause. A variety of methods were being used to manage headaches including conventional medication, complementary therapies and self-developed management techniques. Problems associated with all of these management strategies emerged.

Conclusion

Headache has wide-ranging adverse effects on individuals and is often accompanied by considerable worry. The development of new interventions or educational strategies aimed at reducing the burden of the disorder and associated anxiety are needed.