Objective

To examine the annual healthcare expenditures associated with childhood headache in the United States, and to evaluate whether psychiatric comorbidities increase the impact of headache on expenditures.

Background

Headache is prevalent in childhood and co‐occurs with anxiety disorders, depressive disorders, and attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), which may increase cost of illness.

Methods

We conducted a secondary data analysis using a nationally representative sample of 34,633 children ages 2‐17 from the 2012‐2015 Medical Expenditure Panel Surveys (MEPS), of which 779 (weighted 2.6%) were identified as having headache based on health service use associated with headache. Using a comprehensive cost‐of‐illness approach, we assessed the incremental expenditures associated with headache and determined excess expenditures associated with psychiatric comorbidities using standard adjusted 2‐part expenditure models.

Results

Annual total healthcare expenditures were estimated to be 24.3% higher, 95% CI [1,55], in our headache group ($3036, 95% CI [2374,3699] vs $2350, 95% CI [2140,2559]). Total national expenditures associated with pediatric headache in the United States were estimated at $1.1 billion annually, 95% CI [.04, 2.2 billion]. Depression and ADHD were associated with higher incremental expenditures for the headache group (depression: $1815, 95% CI[676,2953] vs $1409, 95% CI[697,2112]; ADHD: $4742, 95% CI[1659,7825] vs $2935, 95% CI[1977,3894]); however, interactions between psychiatric comorbidities and headache did not reach statistical significance.

Conclusion

Youth with headache exert a considerable economic burden on families, healthcare systems, and society. Due to the limitations in methods used to classify youth with headache in MEPS, our findings may underestimate the true prevalence and cost of pediatric headache in the United States. Further research with larger sample sizes is needed to understand the impact of psychiatric comorbidities on healthcare expenditures in this population.

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