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Cephalalgia. 2019 Sep 3:333102419873671. doi: 10.1177/0333102419873671. [Epub ahead of print]

Primary headache and migraine in headache specialists - does personal history of doctors matter?

Author information

1 Medical Faculty, University of Münster, Münster, Germany.
2 Department of Neurology, Lindenbrunn Hospital, Coppenbrügge, Germany.
3 Department of Neurology, Krankenhaus Maria Frieden, Telgte, Germany.
4 Department of Neurological Intensive Care, Carl von Ossietzky University, Oldenburg, Germany.
5 Akademie für Manuelle Medizin, Münster, Germany.



Migraine is a common disorder affecting more than 10% of the population. The prevalence of migraine among physicians and, in particular, among headache specialists is widely unknown as is the impact of suffering from migraine on the attitudes towards migraine and on treatment recommendations of physicians. We designed a survey among headache specialists and neurologists and compared the results to general pain specialists and general practitioners.


A standardized interview in randomly selected samples of these four groups of physicians was performed. The interview included data on the prevalence of migraine and other primary headache disorders in the physician groups, self-report on their own treatment, attitudes towards migraine, and treatment recommendations for migraine. The prevalence rates were also compared to an age- and sex-matched German general population sample.


The lifetime prevalence of migraine was higher in headache specialists (53.0%) than in general neurologists (43.0%), pain specialists (21.7%), general practitioners (19.3%), and in the general age- and sex-matched population (16.8%). Cluster headache prevalence was high in neurologists (1.9%) and in headache specialists (1.3%); episodic tension-type headache prevalence was significantly lower in general practitioners (19.5%). One reason, among others, was that being a migraine (or cluster headache) patient more often prompted the sufferers to become a specialist in neurology. Physicians with migraine rated the biopsychosocial concept of lower importance for migraine than did physicians without migraine. The self-treatment of migraine in physicians differs from the treatment recommendations to the patients. For example, only 36.4% of the headache specialists with migraine take triptans whereas 94.4% recommend triptans to their patients.


We conclude that being a headache specialist or a neurologist is associated with an increased migraine or cluster headache prevalence. This personal history of migraine leads to a more somatic view of migraine as a disorder and to different treatment recommendations as compared to self-treatment.


Migraine; cluster headache; headache specialist; neurologist; self-treatment


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