Personality and Personality Disorders in Medication-Overuse Headache: A Controlled Study by SWAP-200

Federica Galli, Annalisa Tanzilli, Alessandra Simonelli, Cristina Tassorelli, Grazia Sances, Micol Parolin, Patrizia Cristofalo, Ivan Gualco, Vittorio Lingiardi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Background: Medication-overuse headache (MOH) is a type of chronic headache, whose mechanisms are still unknown. The impact of psychological factors has been matter of debate from different perspectives. The role of personality and personality pathology in processes involved in MOH development has been advanced but was poorly studied. The hypothesis of addiction-like behaviors sustaining the drug misuse has been examined and reached contrasting findings.

Objectives: This study is aimed at detecting personality and its disorders (PDs) in MOH, with a specific attention to the addiction aspect.

Methods: Eighty-eight MOH patients have been compared with two clinical populations including 99 patients with substance use disorder (SUD) and 91 with PDs using the Shedler-Westen Assessment Procedure-200 (SWAP-200), a clinician-report tool that assesses both normal and pathological personality. MANCOVAs were performed to evaluate personality differences among MOH, SUD, and PD groups, controlling for age and gender.

Results: MOH patients were predominantly women and older. They showed lower traits of the SWAP-200's cluster A and B disorders than SUD and PD patients, who presented more severe levels of personality impairment. No differences in the SWAP-200's cluster C have been found, indicating common personality features in these populations. At levels of specific PDs, MOH patients showed higher obsessive and dysphoric traits and better overall psychological functioning than SUD and PD patients.

Conclusion: Although MOH, SUD, and PD populations have been evaluated in multiple sites with different levels of expertise, the study supported the presence of a specific constellation of personality in MOH patients including obsessive (perfectionist) and dysphoric characteristics, as well as good enough psychological resources. No similarities to drug-addicted and personality-disordered patients were found. Practitioners' careful understanding of the personality characteristics of MOH patients may be useful to provide a road map for the implementation of more effective treatment strategies and intervention programs.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1874078
JournalPain Research and Management
Publication statusPublished - 2019


Cite this