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J Emerg Med. 2007 Apr;32(3):245-8. Epub 2007 Feb 5.

Do patients with recurrent headaches attempt abortive therapy before their emergency department visit?

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Department of Emergency Medicine, Morristown Memorial Hospital, Morristown, New Jersey 07962, USA.


Headache is one of the most frequent symptoms prompting an emergency department (ED) visit. For many patients this is an exacerbation of a recurrent or chronic headache pattern. Our objective in this study was to determine if ED patients with recurrent headaches attempt abortive analgesics before seeking ED care. Patients with five or greater similar headache episodes presenting to the ED with the chief complaint of headache were included. There were 150 patients enrolled into the study group. Fourteen percent (95% confidence interval 1-41) of patients did not attempt abortive medication before an ED visit. Males were significantly less likely to utilize pain medication than females before their ED visit (69% vs. 91%; p = 0.003). Of those patients previously seen by a neurologist, 5% did not attempt analgesia before ED arrival, compared to 22% of those who did see a neurologist (p = 0.004). A small, but significant percentage of patients with recurrent headaches do not attempt abortive analgesic therapy before ED encounter. In particular, males and those patients not previously evaluated by a neurologist were significantly less likely to utilize such medications. Further education and selective neurology referral by practitioners may reduce ED utilization in this subset of patients.

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