New Study Shows Migraine Often Mistaken For Sinus Headaches

Findings Presented at the 44th Annual Scientific Meeting of the American Headache Society

SEATTLE, June 20 /PRNewswire/ — For most people, the changing of seasons

means warmer weather and summer flowers; however, for others, changing seasons

means the onset of severe sinus pressure and nasal congestion that is

frequently associated with so-called sinus headaches. Yet according to new

research presented today at the 44th Annual Scientific Meeting of the American

Headache Society, these sinus-related symptoms may actually be caused by

migraine, an underdiagnosed and debilitating neurobiologicial condition.

The study, conducted by the Headache Care Center in Springfield, Mo.,

reveals 90 percent of patients who have self-diagnosed sinus headache, and

even those with a physician diagnosis of sinus headache, actually met

established criteria for the diagnosis of migraine. (1)

“We are seeing a growing body of evidence that suggests symptoms typically

associated with sinus or allergy conditions can actually be part of migraine,”

said Curtis Schreiber, M.D., a neurologist at the Headache Care Center and

co-author of the study. “Because of the location of the pressure and pain,

many patients, as well as healthcare providers, assume the sinuses or nasal

passages are to blame. The wide variability of migraine symptoms probably

explains why 90 percent of patients in our study who were previously diagnosed

with ‘sinus’ headache actually had symptoms fulfilling a migraine diagnosis.”

One possible explanation for the confusion between migraine and sinus

headache relates to the mechanism of migraine. The same nerves that carry

migraine pain also go to the sinus area. Pain in the sinuses, face or around

the eyes can be felt during a migraine on one or both sides of the head.

Also, the nerves that cause stuffy or runny nose and watery eyes can be

activated during a migraine.

“I thought my painful sinus pressure and congestion were sinus headaches

for years, even though over-the-counter medications were not relieving my

symptoms,” said Crystal Kuntaroglu, a migraine sufferer. “When I finally kept

track of my symptoms and talked to my doctor, we determined I was actually

suffering from migraine. Now, with the right medicine, I can get on with my


Like Crystal, 66 percent of study participants expressed dissatisfaction

with their current headache treatment, which included non-narcotic analgesics

(74%), nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) (72%), decongestants

(57%) and antihistamines (48%).

Migraine affects 28 million Americans, yet only 48 percent of patients who

meet the clinical definition of migraine have been diagnosed with migraine by

a healthcare provider. Without proper diagnosis and treatment, migraine can

often be a highly debilitating disease that takes a heavy toll on the

patients’ work/school productivity and affects household work and

family/leisure activities.

“This data could be very helpful for patients who thought they were

suffering from sinus headache,” Dr. Schreiber said. “The results should

encourage people to discuss all their symptoms with their physician to get a

proper diagnosis, and a treatment plan that will be most effective for them.”

About the Study

The study was conducted in more than 450 sites around the country

evaluating 2,524 people ages 18-65 who had not had a previous migraine

diagnosis, but who went to their primary care physician with self-described or

physician-diagnosed sinus headache. Patients were asked to describe the

symptoms associated with their typical sinus headache, and physicians used

International Headache Society (IHS) criteria to diagnose the headache as

migraine with or without aura, migrainous, tension-type or other headache

type. Patients also completed the Headache Impact Test (HIT-6), an effective

assessment tool used to standardize and measure the impact headaches have on a

sufferer’s daily life. Data was captured via a central touch-tone telephone

entry system.

Additional Information

Migraine is a neurobiological disorder that affects 28 million Americans

and can result in missed days of work, lost time with family and friends and a

disrupted daily routine. Often, migraine can be characterized by symptoms

including moderate to severe headache pain, nausea, vomiting, and sensitivity

to light and sound, but migraine can also have other symptoms that are

commonly interpreted as signs of sinus or tension headache (i.e., nasal

congestion, runny nose, watery eyes, bilateral head pain and neck pain).

Because migraine can have many different symptoms, and look like other

types of headaches, it can be difficult for patients to recognize and for

physicians to diagnose.

This study was sponsored by GlaxoSmithKline. GlaxoSmithKline, one of the

world’s leading research-based pharmaceutical and health care companies, is

committed to fighting disease by bringing innovative medicines and services to

patients and to the healthcare providers who serve them. U.S. headquarters

are in Philadelphia, Pa., and Research Triangle Park, N.C.

(1) International Headache Society diagnostic criteria for migraine

without aura include: (A) At least five headache attacks lasting 4-72

hours (untreated or unsuccessfully treated), which has at least two

of the four following characteristics: (1) Unilateral location; (2)

Pulsating quality; (3) Moderate or severe intensity (inhibits or

prohibits daily activities); (4) Aggravated by walking stairs or

similar routine physical activity. (B) During headache at least one

of the two following symptoms occur: (1) Phonophobia and photophobia;

(2) nausea and/or vomiting. Migraine disorder not fulfilling above

criteria: Headache attacks which are believed to be a form of

migraine but which do not quite meet the operational diagnostic

criteria for any of the forms of migraine. Diagnostic criteria

include: (A) Fulfills all criteria but one or more forms of migraine (specify type(s)). (B) Does not fulfill criteria for tension type


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