Sexual function and distress in women treated for primary headaches in a tertiary university center

Rossella E. Nappi, Erica Terreno, Cristina Tassorelli, Grazia Sances, Marta Allena, Elena Guaschino, Fabio Antonaci, Francesca Albani, Franco Polatti

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Introduction. Primary headaches are common in women and impact on their quality of life and psychosocial functioning. Few data are available on sexuality in female headache sufferers. Aim. An observational pilot study was conducted to assess sexual function and distress in women treated for primary headaches in a tertiary university center. Methods. From a total of 194 women consecutively observed over a 3-month period, 100 patients were recruited. Migraine with and without aura, and tension-type headache, both episodic and chronic (CTTH), were diagnosed according to the International Classification of Headache Disorders. A detailed pharmacological history was collected, and anxiety and depression were assessed using validated scales. The Female Sexual Function Index (FSFI) and Female Sexual Distress Scale-Revised were administered. Main Outcome Measures. The main outcome measures are sexual symptoms and distress in women treated for primary headaches. Results. More than 90% of the women had a median FSFI full-scale score under the validated cutoff, while 29% reported sexual distress. Hypoactive sexual desire disorder (HSDD) was diagnosed in 20% of the women and the pain domain score (median 2, score range 0-6) was highly affected by the head pain condition. However, the FSFI domain and full-scale scores did not significantly differ by headache diagnosis. The women with CTTH displayed a high rate of sexual distress (45.5%) and a strong negative correlation between desire, arousal, and full-scale FSFI score and number analgesics/month (r: -0.77, P=0.006; r: -0.76, P=0.006; and r: -0.68, P=0.02, respectively). Depression was positively correlated with sexual distress (r: 0.63, P=0.001) only in the women with CTTH. Conclusion. Women treated for primary headaches were found to display a high rate of sexual symptoms and distress. Both migraine and tension-type headache were associated with sexual pain and HSDD, but women with CTTH seem to be more prone to develop sexual distress.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)761-769
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Sexual Medicine
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2012


  • Distress
  • Hypoactive Sexual Desire Disorder
  • Migraine
  • Sexual Function
  • Sexual Pain
  • Tension-Type Headache

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Urology
  • Obstetrics and Gynaecology
  • Reproductive Medicine


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