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Last Updated: Thursday, 16 February 2006, 00:06 GMT
Women 'get more headache drugs'
Woman with her head in her hands
Women are more likely to see the GP about headaches than men
Women aged between 45 and 54 with headaches are twice as likely to be prescribed drugs by their GP as men of the same age, a study suggests.

The findings by a team at King's College London come from a study of 253 practices over nine years.

Women were three times as likely to see the GP about headache than men.

But the study, published in the Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery and Psychiatry, found men were more likely to be referred to hospital.

The differences in medication prescribing and referral patterns between men and women deserve further research
Dr Mayur Lakhani
Royal College of GPs

Headache is one of the top 10 reasons for people to see a GP and accounts for 20% of sick leave.

It is also the most common neurological symptom seen by family doctors and neurologists. The researchers found there were a total of 570,795 consultations for headache made by 413,221 patients aged over 15 during the period studied.

Women's consultation rate for headache was 6.4 out of every 100 per year compared to 2.5 for men.

For both genders, the peak period for consultations was between the ages of 15 and 24 - although women in this age group were still three times more likely to see the GP about headache than men.

When the researchers looked at prescribing rates, they found that women were more likely to be given migraine medication than men.

Drugs were prescribed to about one in three women and to one in four men.


But prescribing was most common for women aged 45 to 54, who were given 78 prescriptions for every 100 consultations.

In all, 6% of patients with headache were referred to a hospital specialist, mostly neurologists, but these referrals were more likely among men.

Dr Martin Gulliford of the Department of Public Health Sciences at King's College London, one of the researchers who carried out the study, said: "Patterns of treatment for headache clearly differ between men and women.

"These varying patterns of medical treatment at different ages and between men and women, suggest that there is uncertainty concerning the best way of managing troublesome headache symptoms.

"More effective treatments and better management strategies are needed."

Dr Mayur Lakhani, chairman of the Royal College of GPs, said: "As a practising GP, I know that headaches are common and can be distressing.

"Headaches and migraine are also commoner in women.

"The differences in medication prescribing and referral patterns between men and women deserve further research.

"It is important that there is equity in healthcare and that neither men nor women are disadvantaged, but have the same opportunity to receive clinically appropriate treatment and referral."

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