Headaches in a group of civil servants and their effects on work and leisure activities, the medication taken, and numbers consulting their general practitioners during a year were assessed by a self administered questionnaire sent to 1000 civil servants in sections of a government department in London. The response rate was 74.7%. Altogether 77% of the respondents reported having had headaches in the previous 12 months. There was a higher prevalence in women (88%) than men (70%) and a significant decrease with increasing age. Women also had more frequent and severe headaches than men: 34% reported that headaches had interfered with work, either by impaired performance, making them leave work early, or by stopping them coming into work. About half of those who reported having severe headaches denied that they had affected their work, indicating difficulty in interpreting the term "severe." Nevertheless, 22% said that headaches interfered with their leisure activities as well as work which may be regarded as further evidence that the condition was truly disabling. Eighty per cent of those with headaches took medication, but within the past year only 11% had consulted their general practitioner and only 2.2% had been referred for further specialist opinion. Of the 22% who had not had a headache during the previous 12 months, 5.6% had never had a headache. In this group there was a larger proportion of men, a higher proportion with increasing age, and a higher proportion in non-desk working grades. Differentiation of the causes of headaches was not attempted in this survey but it is concluded that the extent to which they interfere with work and leisure is an important guide to their severity. It is suggested that the occupational health services may have an important role in assessing the causes of headaches and instituting preventive measures that benefit both the worker and industry.
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