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Primary cough headache

F Michael Cutrer, MD
Section Editor
Jerry W Swanson, MD, MHPE
Deputy Editor
John F Dashe, MD, PhD


Cough headache is one of several relatively uncommon headache syndromes that may occur either as a primary headache or as a headache secondary to potentially malignant processes. Careful evaluation for underlying causes is important for these uncommon types of headache.

This topic will review primary cough headache. Other types of uncommon primary headache disorders are discussed separately. (See "Primary stabbing headache" and "Exertional headache" and "Primary headache associated with sexual activity" and "Hypnic headache" and "Approach to the patient with thunderclap headache" and "Nummular headache".)


Sometimes referred to as benign cough headache or Valsalva maneuver headache, primary cough headache is provoked by coughing or straining in the absence of any intracranial disorder.

Primary cough headache most often affects people over the age of 40. Cough headaches are sudden in onset, bilateral in distribution, and last from seconds to 30 minutes [1]. These headaches are not associated with nausea, vomiting, light or sound sensitivity, conjunctival injection, rhinorrhea, or lacrimation [2].

The true prevalence and incidence of primary cough headache is unknown, but one Danish population-based study found that the lifetime prevalence of benign cough headache was 1 percent [3].

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Literature review current through: Nov 2017. | This topic last updated: Dec 15, 2016.
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