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<jats:sec><jats:title>Objective</jats:title><jats:p>To systematically review the qualitative literature of the lived experience of people with a chronic headache disorder.</jats:p></jats:sec><jats:sec><jats:title>Background</jats:title><jats:p>Chronic headaches affect 3%–4% of the population. The most common chronic headache disorders are chronic migraine, chronic tension-type headache and medication overuse headache. We present a systematic review and meta-ethnographic synthesis of the lived experience of people with chronic headache.</jats:p></jats:sec><jats:sec><jats:title>Methods</jats:title><jats:p>We searched seven electronic databases, hand-searched nine journals and used a modified Critical Appraisal Skills Programme checklist to appraise study quality. Following thematic analysis we synthesised the data using a meta-ethnographic approach.</jats:p></jats:sec><jats:sec><jats:title>Results</jats:title><jats:p>We identified 3586 unique citations; full texts were examined for 86 studies and 4 were included in the review. Included studies differed in their foci: exploring, patient-centred outcomes, chronic headache as a socially invisible disease, psychological processes mediating impaired quality of life, and the process of medication overuse. Initial thematic analysis and subsequent synthesis gave three overarching themes: ‘headache as a driver of behaviour’ (directly and indirectly), ‘the spectre of headache’ and ‘strained relationships’.</jats:p></jats:sec><jats:sec><jats:title>Conclusion</jats:title><jats:p>This meta-synthesis of published qualitative evidence demonstrates that chronic headaches have a profound effect on people’s lives, showing similarities with other pain conditions. There were insufficient data to explore the similarities and differences between different chronic headache disorders.</jats:p></jats:sec>

Original publication




Journal article


BMJ Open



Publication Date





e019929 - e019929