Costly, complex headache treatment on the rise

(Reuters Health) - Contrary to most treatment guidelines for uncomplicated headaches, doctors are ordering expensive scans and referring patients to specialists more often, racking up unnecessary healthcare costs, a new study finds.

“In U.S. healthcare we have a general overtreatment problem and headache is no different except that with headaches a lot of the overtreatment is potentially low value and high cost,” said lead author Dr. John Mafi, an internal medicine fellow at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston.

The great majority of people will experience a headache at some point in life, and about one in four Americans have recurrent severe headaches such as migraines. About 12 million Americans visit their doctors complaining of headaches each year at an annual cost of about $31 billion, Mafi and his colleagues write in the Journal of General Internal Medicine.

Most evidence-based guidelines for headaches advise conservative treatments such as counseling about stress reduction or avoiding dietary triggers for headaches, and reserve imaging or specialty referrals for “red flag” headaches that stem from neurologic problems, cancer, trauma or human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), the authors note. More

 

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