Half of all people with HIV or AIDS are affected by headache, most of them severely, a new study shows.

Researchers at the University of Mississippi assessed 200 patients with HIV/AIDS and found that 53.5% reported headache. More than 85% of those people met the criteria for migraine, and 27.5% met the criteria for chronic migraine—a rare condition that causes migraine symptoms 15 or more days per month.

“This translates into a 13-fold increased risk of chronic migraine among patients with HIV disease,” stated Todd Smitherman, PhD, a UM assistant professor of psychology and a lead researcher.

The severity of HIV and severity of headache were closely linked.

“The strongest predictor of headache was the severity of HIV disease, such that patients with more advanced disease had more frequent, more severe and more disabling migraines,” Smitherman said.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, most Americans with HIV do not have the disease under control, despite available medications to slow the course of the disease. Researchers noted their findings highlight the importance of patients adhering to their treatment plans and physicians attending to headache symptoms. They also hope their findings will help infectious disease physicians talk with patients about what to expect regarding headache and help prevent costly procedures to rule out opportunistic infections.

This study was the first to evaluate the connection between HIV and headache since highly active antiretroviral therapy became the treatment norm. It was conducted as part of a doctoral dissertation by Kale Kirkland while working under Smitherman at the Headache Research and Treatment Laboratory at the University of Mississippi, and was first published Nov. 11 online in the journal Headache.

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