‘Tension Headache’ or ‘Migraine Without Aura’ or ‘Mixed’ Headache?

October 12, 2009 by dean · Leave a Comment 

Diagnosis cannot be done from symptoms alone

Diagnosis cannot be done from symptoms alone

This study from Spain demonstrates that diagnosing headache and migraine cannot be done from symptoms alone.

One hundred and five GPs were asked to examine and treat a patient who was considered (according to the International Headache Society’s diagnostic criteria) to be suffering migraine without aura.

Forty six diagnosed migraine correctly, 41 diagnosed the patient as tension-type headache, whilst 17 concluded ‘mixed’ headache and one GP was unable to diagnose the patient. One hundred and three recommended anti inflammatory medication as symptomatic treatment. Triptans were recommended by 67 GPs (including 15 of the 41 who had diagnosed the patient as tension-type headache). Preventive treatment was not considered by 30 GPs. A total of 66 GPs would prescribe beta-blockers (13 of the 41 who diagnosed tension-type headache), 35 amitriptyline (of whom 23 diagnosed tension-type headache) and the remaining 9, other treatments.

I have always maintained that a ‘diagnosis’ is not particularly useful – this study supports my clinical experience – what is the point of a diagnosis. The key to successful management is finding the source of the sensitisation; whilst the triptans may decrease the sensitisation they do not remove the source.

A skilled examination of the structures of the upper neck can identify relevant disorders – this involves temporary reproduction (and easing as the technique is sustained) of familiar head pain.



(Pascual J, Sanchez A, Castillo J Dif?culties for diagnosing and treating migraine among general practitioners Cephalalgia 2009;29(Suppl. 1):1–166)

© 2009 & Beyond. Watson Headache Institute, All Rights Reserved.

About dean
Consultant Headache & Migraine Physiotherapist; International Teacher; Director, The Headache Clinic & Watson Headache Institute; PhD Candidate Murdoch University, Western Australia; Adjunct Lecturer, Masters Program, Physiotherapy School, University of South Australia; MAppSc(Res) GradDipAdvManipTher Experienced health practitioners trained in the Watson Headache Approach perform the examination and treatment techniques developed by Dean Watson. These techniques are based on his extensive experience of 7000 headache patients (21,000 hours) over 21 years and are now taught internationally. For your nearest practitioner who has completed training in the ‘Watson Headache Approach’ please refer to the ‘Practitioner Directory’.

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