Tension headaches afflict two out of five Americans but are most likely to strike people with advanced degrees who are in their prime working years, according to a Johns Hopkins study published today.
Women are also more likely to suffer headaches than men.
In the first large-scale population survey of tension headaches in the United States, researchers at the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health found that the problem afflicts 50 percent of people with graduate school degrees, compared with 20 percent of people who only attended grade school.
People in their 30s were more likely to get tension headaches than people in any other age group.
"Tension headaches increase with education and rise in the prime working years," said Dr. Brian S. Schwartz, a professor of environmental health sciences who directed the study. "Whether the job demands of people with higher levels of education, job-related stress or things they use in the workplace is open to question."
Schwartz said it would be interesting to know whether video display terminals, poor lighting or tight deadlines contribute to tension headaches in the workplace.
In the study, described in today's Journal of the American Medical Association, researchers conducted telephone interviews with 13,345 people living in Baltimore County. Participants were asked whether they suffered from headaches and, if so, to describe their symptoms.
Researchers then decided which of the people suffered from true tension headaches, which are defined by the International Headache Society as mild to moderate headaches that exert a band-like pressure on both sides of the head.
"There is no nausea, vomiting, light sensitivity, noise sensitivity or visual auras" -- symptoms characteristic of more severe migraine headaches, Schwartz said.
Another question raised by the study is why women suffer more often than men and whites more than blacks.
The study found that women were 15 percent more likely to get tension headaches than men. The gap is much wider with migraine headaches, which afflict women at three times the rate as men.
While Caucasians suffered from tension headaches more often than African-Americans, the reverse is true of migraines.
"We find headaches are very common and have a very significant impact on people," said Schwartz. "Eight percent of people with tension headaches lost days of work, and 40 percent reported decreased effectiveness at work. This would suggest that lots of people are suffering in silence."
Pub Date: 2/04/98