Current Treatment Options in Neurology

, Volume 15, Issue 1, pp 56-62

First online:

Open Access This content is freely available online to anyone, anywhere at any time.

Treatment of Headache in the Elderly

  • Linda A. HersheyAffiliated withDepartment of Neurology, University of Oklahoma Email author 
  • , Edward M. BednarczykAffiliated withDepartment of Pharmacy Practice, University at Buffalo

Opinion statement

Most primary headaches in the elderly are similar to those in younger patients (tension, migraine, and cluster), but there are some differences, such as late-life migraine accompaniments and hypnic headaches. Although migraine in younger persons usually presents with headache, migraine in older persons may initially appear with visual or sensory phenomena, instead of headache (“migraine accompaniments”). Hypnic headaches awaken patients from sleep, are short-lived, and occur only in the elderly. The probability of secondary headache increases steadily with age. Secondary headaches include those associated with temporal arteritis, trigeminal neuralgia, sleep apnea, post- herpetic neuralgia, cervical spondylosis, subarachnoid hemorrhage, intracerebral hemorrhage, intracranial neoplasm, and post-concussive syndrome. Certain rescue treatments for migraine headache in younger individuals (triptans or dihydroergotamine, for example) should not be used in elderly patients because of the risk of coronary artery disease. Naproxen and hydroxyzine are commonly used oral rescue therapies for older adults who have migraine or tension headaches. Intravenous magnesium, valproic acid, and metoclopramide are all effective rescue therapies for severe headaches in the emergency room setting. Some effective prophylactic agents for migraine in younger patients (amitriptyline and doxepin) are not usually recommended for older individuals because of the risks of cognitive impairment, urinary retention, and cardiac arrhythmia. For these reasons, the recommended oral preventive agents for migraine in older adults include divalproex sodium, topiramate, metoprolol, and propranolol. Oral agents that can prevent hypnic headaches include caffeine and lithium. Cough headaches respond to indomethacin or acetazolamide.


Cluster Headache Treatment Elderly Divalproex Hydroxyzine Hypnic Lithium Magnesium Medication overuse Metoclopramide Metoprolol Migraine accompaniment Naproxen Propranolol Sleep apnea Subarachnoid hemorrhage Temporal arteritis Tension Thunderclap Topiramate Trigeminal neuralgia