Headaches affect most children and rank third among illness-related causes of school absenteeism. Although the short-term outcome for most children appears favorable, few studies have reported long-term outcome.
To evaluate the long-term prognosis of childhood headaches 20 years after initial diagnosis in a cohort of Atlantic Canadian children who had headaches diagnosed in 1983.
Ninety-five patients with headaches who consulted 1 of the authors in 1983 were previously studied in 1993. The 77 patients contacted in 1993 were followed up in 2003. A standardized interview protocol was used.
Sixty (78%) of 77 patients responded (60 of the 95 of the original cohort). At 20-year follow-up, 16 (27%) were headache free, 20 (33%) had tension-type headaches, 10 (17%) had migraine, and 14 (23%) had migraine and tension-type headaches. Having more than 1 headache type was more prevalent than at diagnosis or initial follow-up (P<.001), and headache type varied across time. Of those with headaches at follow-up, 80% (35/44) described their headaches as moderate or severe, although an improvement in headaches was reported by 29 (66%). Tension-type headaches were more likely than migraine to remit (P<.04). Headache severity at diagnosis was predictive of headache outcome at 20 years. During the month before follow-up, nonprescription medications were used by 31 (70%) of those with ongoing headaches, and prescription medications were used by 6 (14%). However, 20 (45%) believed that nonpharmacological methods were most effective. Medication use increased during the 10 years since last follow-up. No patient used selective serotonin receptor agonists (triptans).
Twenty years after diagnosis of pediatric headache, most patients continue to have headache, although the headache classification often changes across time. Most patients report moderate or severe headache and increasingly choose to care for their headaches pharmacologically.