April 01, 2011

Headaches in older adults

Sorting out the cause


You've battled migraines for decades. So it was a relief to have fewer debilitating migraines as you progressed into your 60s. But now, after a period of being almost headache-free, you're suddenly contending with headaches again. And these aren't like the migraines you remember.

Considering your age and headache history, your doctor suggests doing some blood tests and brain-imaging studies to help narrow the scope of what might be causing your new headaches.

Headaches can be divided into two types:

  • Primary headaches — These are headaches such as migraines or tension headaches not caused by another problem.
  • Secondary headaches — These headaches are the result of an underlying problem or disease.

Headaches affect adults of all ages. Some types of primary headaches are more likely to persist into your later years. Occasionally, new primary headaches develop in older people. In this age group, secondary headaches are more commonly associated with the increased occurrence of medical conditions that may cause pain, such as subdural hematoma, giant cell arteritis and brain tumors.

Age-related primary headaches

There are several types of primary headaches, such as tension-type headaches, migraines and chronic daily headaches. Primary headaches account for the majority of headaches in all age groups.

Among older adults, most headaches are a continuation of a primary headache condition that started earlier in adult life. These might include: