Women suffering from Horton's disease often overlooked

​Horton's disease (cluster headache) is usually considered as a disease found in men. However, research by the Danish Headache Centre shows that women have the same characteristic symptoms and often go misdiagnosed. 

​Typical signs of Horton's disease in women should be taken more seriously than previously assumed. The very painful headache is often considered as a disease found primarily in men. However, new research by the Danish Headache Centre at Rigshospitalet - Glostrup shows that symptoms and the course of disease are for the most part gender-neutral. The disease shows the same characteristics in women as it does in men. This was reported by Nunu Lund, physician and PhD student and the first author of a new study published in the prestigious journal Neurology.

"Our findings are surprising, as a number of previous studies have shown that the course of the disease in women is more diffuse than in men. Nevertheless, cluster headache is actually remarkably similar for men and women," said Nunu Lund.

Like the men in the study, the women reported classic symptoms of Horton's disease such as pain around one eye, watery eyes and restlessness. Poor sleep and alcohol were typical triggers for both genders, and there were no differences in the level of pain between the men and women.  

Mistaken for migraine

In the past, it has been estimated that 6-7-times more men than women suffer from Horton's disease. The study by the Danish Headache Centre showed that only twice as many men as women suffered from the disease. Parts of this result can be explained by the fact that many patients who others have difficulty diagnosing or helping are referred to the Danish Headache Centre. However, according to Nunu Lund, the results indicate that women are an overlooked group.

"Women are misdiagnosed more often than men, and our results suggest that we need to be more aware of this type of headache in women," said Nunu Lund.

For example, the study shows that 61.1% of women had been misdiagnosed earlier during their disease, whereas the corresponding figure for men was 45.5%. Four out of ten women were not diagnosed correctly until they were referred to the Danish Headache Centre.  For men, just two out of ten had to wait until they came to the Headache Centre for correct diagnosis.

The study included 351 people who had been diagnosed with Horton's disease; a large study for this disease. The results are based on questionnaire responses and subsequent individual interviews with all patients. Nunu Lund, Mads Barløse, Anja Petersen, Bryan Haddock and Rigmor Jensen are the authors of the study. 

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