, Volume 10, Issue 1, pp 3-9,
Open Access This content is freely available online to anyone, anywhere at any time.
Date: 13 Jan 2009

Cardiac cephalgia


The purpose of this review was to provide a critical evaluation of medical literature on so-called “cardiac cephalgia” or “cardiac cephalalgia”. The 2004 International Classification of Headache Disorders codes cardiac cephalgia to 10.6 in the group of secondary headaches attributed to disorder of homoeostasis. This headache is hardly recognizable and is associated to an ischaemic cardiovascular event, of which it may be the only manifestation in 27% of cases. It usually occurs after exertion. Sometimes routine examinations, cardiac enzymes, ECG and even exercise stress test prove negative. In such cases, only a coronary angiogram can provide sufficient evidence for diagnosis. Cardiac cephalgia manifests itself without a specific pattern of clinical features: indeed, in this headache subtype there is a high variability of clinical manifestations between different patients and also within the same patient. It “mimics” sometimes a form of migraine either accompanied or not by autonomic symptoms, sometimes a form of tension-type headache; on other occasions, it exhibits characteristics that can hardly be interpreted as typical of primary headache. Pain location is highly variable. When the headache occurs as the only manifestation of an acute coronary event, the clues for suspicion are a) older age at onset, b) no past medical history of headache, c) presence of risk factors for vascular disorders and d) onset of headache under stress. Knowledge of cardiac cephalgia is scarce, due to its rare clinical occurrence and to the scant importance given to headache as a symptom concomitantly with an ischaemic cardiac event.