Having short, painful headaches for many days or even weeks in a row may signal that you’re more likely to have other medical woes, researchers say.

These “cluster headaches” are extremely painful and can last from 15 minutes to three hours at a time. And people who have them may be more than three times more likely to have other medical conditions, such as heart disease or mental disorders, the new study found.

“Around the world, headaches have an incredibly negative impact on people’s quality of life, both economically and socially,” said study author Caroline Ran, of the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, Sweden.

“Our results show that people with cluster headaches not only have an increased risk of other illnesses, those with at least one additional illness missed four times as many days of work due to sickness and disability than those with just cluster headaches. They also have a higher chance of a long-term absence from work,” Ran explained.

The study involved more than 3,200 Swedes, aged 16 to 64, who had cluster headaches. Most were men, because men are more likely to have cluster headaches. The researchers compared that group to 16,200 people without the headaches who were similar in age, gender and other factors.

The investigators looked at work records and disability benefits to determine how many days a year people were absent from work due to sickness and disability.

The findings were published online Dec. 14 in the journal Neurology.

People with cluster headaches missed an average number of 63 days of work due to sickness and disability compared to 34 days in those without cluster headaches, the findings showed.

About 92% of those who had cluster headaches had at least one additional illness and about 78% of those without cluster headaches had two of more illnesses, the researchers determined.

More women with cluster headaches had additional illnesses than men — 96% compared to 90%.

“Increasing our understanding of the other conditions that affect people with cluster headache and how they impact their ability to work is very important,” Ran said in a journal news release. “This information can help us as we make decisions on treatments, prevention and prognoses.”

Information on whether participants smoked or drank alcohol and their weight was not available, which is a limitation of the study.

More information

The U.S. National Library of Medicine has more on cluster headaches.

SOURCE: Neurology, news release, Dec. 14, 2022