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Patient’s Sex May Influence GPs’ Treatment of Headache

Women are three times more likely to see a GP about their headaches than men are, but are less likely to be referred to a specialist, according to a study published in the Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery and Psychiatry.

Medication is also prescribed for women more than men; one in three women and one in four men received drugs. In the age range of 45 to 54, twice as many women as men left the GP’s office with a prescription.

One reason for this discrepancy could be in the types of headaches each sex experiences. Women represent more than two-thirds of adult migraineurs, while six times as many men than women have cluster headaches. Because there is a better understanding of migraine than cluster headaches, GPs may be more comfortable treating migraine than cluster headaches. Thus they treat more women and refer more men.

This can’t totally explain the difference in treatment. The stereotype of the weak or hysterical woman who complains of headaches is so ingrained that it has to influence how they are treated. (If you want to read more about this, Paula Kamen’s exploration of this in All in My Head is excellent.)

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