For people who suffer from migraines, this condition is much more intense than a pulsating, throbbing headache. A migraine can take control of the whole body, but also life, both social and professional. However, being up to date with the most recent migraine statistics can help us better understand the disease.
This, in turn, will allow for better prediction of the attacks, clinical course, and treatment options, even though there’s currently no cure for migraines, as their pathophysiological mechanisms haven’t been fully elucidated.
Here, we present 45 facts and stats about migraines, starting with a list of the author’s ten favorites. For more intriguing statistics in the healthcare field, visit our website at HealthCareers.co.
The Top 10 Upsetting Migraine Facts
- Chronic migraine affects approximately 1% of the world’s population.
- Migraine is the third most common headache disorder in the world.
- Around 25% of US households have a person with a migraine.
- There are 3,000 migraine attacks for each million of the general population daily.
- Between 5% and 50% of children can be affected by some form of headache.
- Migraine is responsible for almost 3% of all life-years lost to disability.
- About half of all patients with migraines remain undiagnosed and untreated.
- Less than 50% of migraineurs are satisfied with their present therapy management.
- Direct and indirect migraine attacks cost American employers about $20 billion each year.
- Particular food and intense aromas can trigger a migraine.
What Is a Migraine?
1. A migraine is a common headache disorder characterized by recurring bouts of head pain.
Migraine is a recurrent, often life-long, and disabling disease. According to the migraine statistics worldwide, migraine is the sixth most disabling disease in the world, together with dementia and acute psychosis, and it’s more disabling than blindness or paraplegia.
2. Migraines cause problems for the entire family of the affected person.
The burden of migraines spreads on the patients, their families, colleagues, and healthcare as a whole. Migraines cause stress even outside of the attacks. Furthermore, one-third of spouses of patients with episodic migraines and one-half of spouses of those who suffer from a chronic migraine avoid the affected person because of their condition.
Due to the migraine, the affected person is more demanding of children as well, leading to the assumption that people with migraines would be better parents without it, according to the recent migraine stats.
3. The migraine development process has four stages.
(American Migraine Foundation)
The process of transition from no migraine (first stage) to chronic migraine (fourth stage) consists of the stages of low-frequency episodic migraine and high-frequency episodic migraine. The headache experts define the low frequency as less than ten headache days per month.
High-rate migraine lasts for 10–14 days per month, and the chronic migraine lasts for 15 or more days per month. Between 2% and 3% of people with episodic migraines transition to chronic migraines every year.
4. Chronic migraine affects approximately 1% of the world’s population.
(International Headache Society)
Chronic migraine is one of the common migraine types. As stated above, the condition is diagnosed when a person has at least eight days a month with typical migraine headache symptoms, or more than 15 headache days for more than three months.
5. People with migraines are often stigmatized.
Since migraine is sometimes associated with psychiatric and psychological disorders, it’s often wrongly considered as a mental condition. Regardless of its devastating symptoms, the affected people usually appear normal. Moreover, there are no specific instrumental or blood tests for migraines. In line with this, migraine patients often have to prove that they have a disease, which is a source of additional stress for them.
Types of Headaches
6. Headaches are some of the most common disorders of the central nervous system.
More than half of the adults have had a headache at least once within the last year. Furthermore, headaches also bring pain, disability, reduced quality of life at a high financial cost, and social, as well as personal problems.
7. All types of headaches are of public health importance.
The primary types of headaches, namely migraine, tension-type, cluster, and medication-overuse headache, are responsible for the high percentages of disability and ill-health in the general population.
8. The migraine is one of the significant headache illnesses.
One of the most distinctive of the migraine headaches types is the one of moderate or severe intensity — a one-sided pulsating pain that lasts from hours to days and is caused by releasing pain-associated inflammatory molecules around the blood vessels and nerves of the head. In children, the migraine symptoms can be manifested as abdominal pain and may last shorter.
9. The tension headache is the most common headache disorder.
Episodic attacks of this headache are reported by 70% in some populations, whereas the chronic form affects only 1–3% of adult populations. The headache chart follows similar epidemiologic patterns as migraine, but with different causes. In contrast to the typical migraine pain, the pain in a tension headache is described as pressure or tightness, spreading around the neck. The possible mechanisms of this disorder are linked to musculoskeletal problems in the neck.
10. The cluster headache is the less common primary headache disorder affecting men predominantly.
The cluster headache is a relatively rare headache disorder, affecting one in 1000 adults. It’s characterized by severe pain in the head, usually around one eye, with symptoms such as tearing and redness of the eye and blocked nose. This condition can slightly resemble ocular migraine symptoms.
11. The headache from medication overuse is the most common secondary headache disorder.
This type of headache occurs as a consequence of chronic and excessive use of drugs, ironically used to treat headaches. Compared to the cluster migraine, medication-overuse headaches affect more people — up to 5% of some populations, mainly women. This headache is persistent and oppressive and often caused by trying to treat the sinus migraine symptoms.
12. Chronic migraine is often associated with specific risk factors.
(American Migraine Foundation)
Since the chronic migraine is a disabling disorder, its treatment should be focused on the prevention of complications by manipulating the potentially preventable risk factors, such as obesity, stressful life events, depression, as well as the overuse of acute migraine medicine, or ineffective treatment.
Epidemiological Migraine Facts and Figures
13. Migraine is the third most common headache disorder in the world.
The Global Burden of Disease Study released in 2010 placed chronic migraines in third place out of all diseases worldwide, whereas the report from 2015 confirmed the high prevalence, also with the addition of significant socio-economic and personal impacts of migraine-associated disability for both males and females under 50.
14. Approximately 14.7% of the world’s population is affected by migraines.
That global prevalence accounts for about one in every seven people worldwide, making migraines more prevalent than diseases such as diabetes, epilepsy, and asthma combined, as reported by the Journal of Headache and Pain. Only dental caries and tension-type headaches are more prevalent.
15. Around 25% of US households have a person with migraines.
(Migraine Research Foundation)
Interestingly, these statistics also include children. When the statistics take into account the number of affected children, the global prevalence of the disease is established at about 2%.
16. Women are three times more likely to develop migraines than men.
The two- to three-fold higher rate of migraine in women is probably hormonally-driven. More precisely, it was estimated that 17% of women experience migraines in contrast to only 6% of men. What is astonishing about this data is that the severe headache or migraine decreased with advancing age, and after 75, the prevalence in men drops from 11% to 3.4%, and among women — from 24.7% to 6.3%, according to the recently released CDC migraine statistics.
17. There are 3,000 migraine attacks for every million of the general population every day.
The total accounts for 190,000 migraine attacks in the UK every day. It was also estimated that three-quarters of all people with migraine experience at least one attack each month, whereas 50% of migraineurs have severe attacks every month.
18. Between 5% and 50% of children can be affected by some form of headache.
Although migraines affect people between 35 and 45, they often start in puberty or childhood. Furthermore, about one in every 10 school-aged children can experience migraine episodes, which often go undiagnosed, according to the migraine statistics from 2019.
19. The typical person who suffers from migraines is a middle-aged Native American or Caucasian woman, uninsured, and from the lowest income group.
This epidemiological profile has no definite explanations and reasons. However, knowing these data can help to identify the risk groups and take adequate preventive measures.
Possible Migraine Causes
20. Migraine is considered as a disorder with a strong genetic basis.
The migraine phenotype depends on the personal genetic predisposition influenced by environmental triggers. The probable genetic factors were identified via extensive research, including genome-wide association studies, investigating candidate-genes, and case-control cohorts. The genetic component in the development of migraine affects different critical pathways such as neurological, vascular, and hormonal pathways. The recognized genomic regions furthermore were associated with the increased individual risk of developing a migraine.
21. Brain mechanisms are more likely to be involved in migraine development than vascular pathology.
Independently of the types of migraine headaches, the old theory on the causation of migraine by alterations in blood vessels was judged inadequate. Now, it’s accepted that the inflammation around the nerves is responsible for the migraine attacks.
22. Nausea, pain disorders, and snoring are among the risk factors for developing a migraine.
(American migraine foundation)
Other confirmed risk factors for the transition from an episodic to chronic migraine are mental disorders (depression, anxiety), obesity, asthma, head/neck injury, overuse of caffeine and migraine drugs, as well as poor management of stressful life events.
Migraine Symptoms That Direct the Diagnosis
23. There are two types of migraines — without and with aura.
(International Headache Society)
While migraine without aura is characterized as a headache with typical symptoms, a migraine with aura is described as a two-part syndrome. The first part includes the transient neurological symptoms (aura) that precede the headache. This so-called prodromal phase may last hours or days before the headache, followed by the resolution of the migraine with aura and its symptoms. Sometimes, subsequent symptoms arise, such as hyper- or hypo-activity, depression, fatigue, repetitive yawning, craving for certain foods, and neck stiffness.
Independently of the migraine aura types of headaches, it’s essential to manage patients and their symptoms accordingly.
24. Among the most common migraine symptoms are one-sided pulsating pain, light and sound sensitivity, and nausea.
Additionally, it’s normal for the migraineurs to complain about problems with eyesight, such as having blurred vision and other changes. Nausea and headaches can be so severe that they lead to vomiting. Moreover, the symptoms mentioned above may be a part of the aura.
25. Making a chronic migraine diagnosis is not an easy process.
(American Migraine Foundation)
Association with the different migraine types and symptoms can aid the diagnostic process, but patients report only the headache episodes. Furthermore, it would be beneficial for both patients and doctors to keep a daily headache diary. In this way, the people who suffer from migraines will be able to report all the episodes, and not only the severe ones that disable from going to school or work.
Determining and stating the exact number of headache days per month will allow us to make a diagnosis and to start adequate treatment.
26. Up to one-third of all neurology consultations concern headache in the UK.
According to headache statistics from 2018 and beyond, around 3% of all consultations with GPs in the UK are also for complaints of headaches. For both cases, the most common diagnosis is migraine.
27. Migraine is responsible for almost 3% of all years of life lost to disability.
The migraine is ranked globally as the leading cause of disability among all neurological disorders. Furthermore, it was estimated that persons with migraines spend around 5.3% of their lives experiencing headache attacks. This is why severe migraine is classified among the most disabling illnesses (along with dementia, quadriplegia, and active psychosis).
28. The prevalence of anxiety and depression is higher in people with migraines.
This observation was included in the recent migraine statistics. Anxiety and mood disorders are not only strongly associated with migraines but can make a huge impact on the clinical course, treatment response, and medical outcomes of migraines. Moreover, it was shown that some of the physical symptoms that accompany depression might be linked to migraines and not to an underlying emotional disorder.
Behavior therapy, controlling how much one worries and learning how to relax, can be used in the management of all concomitant diseases.
29. About half of all patients with migraines remain undiagnosed and untreated.
In addition to the usually confounded symptoms, less than 50% of patients seek medical help or consultation with a physician, leading to a significant proportion of undiagnosed people.
The Principles of Migraine Treatment
30. Treatment of migraine helps to remove the stigma from the affected.
Alleviating the symptoms of migraines also restores the ability of patients to lead normal social and professional lives. People with chronic migraines are even more stigmatized than those with episodic ones, sharing the first place with epilepsy and panic disorder, leaving behind asthma.
31. Treatment for migraines consists of acute medications, preventive drugs, and non-medication management of the disease.
(American Migraine Foundation)
The tricky thing about the use of acute medicines to break the headache attack and to relieve the different types of migraine pain is to choose the right dose and limit the number of drug applications to avoid the risk of the occurrence of headaches caused by medication overuse. Preventive treatment includes botox, anti-seizure medications, antidepressants, and medications used for blood pressure control.
Addressing risk factors such as snoring, obesity, anxiety, depression, along with cognitive behavioral therapy, also may play an essential role in the management of migraine.
32. The breakthrough in migraine management and treatment was the invention of the triptan class of drugs.
This single advance in the treatment of migraine is an especially potent therapy for the rare types of migraine headaches and cluster headaches.
33. Less than 50% of migraineurs are satisfied with their present therapy management.
The reasons for these observations may be based on the fact that the overwhelming proportion of patients do not seek help and self-medicate with over-the-counter drugs.
Economy and Migraine Sufferers: Statistics and Facts
34. Direct and indirect migraine attacks cost American employers about $20 billion each year.
The employers are hugely affected by the employees with migraines, especially those with chronic migraines (about $1700 per year for patients with episodic migraines, compared to $3300 per year for those with the chronic migraines).
Although the prevalence of migraine is higher among women, the lost productivity in men costs double, according to the migraine statistics in the US.
36. Migraine is the second most common cause of short-term work absence.
Chronic migraine is estimated to be the reason to be absent from work for 47% of all non-manual employees. The so-called presenteeism refers to the situations when workers continue to attend work despite the severe pain they are experiencing. However, their productivity is severely impaired, but they go to work out of fear of disciplinary measures, or assumptions they are unreliable or just “faking it.”
37. 25 million absent days from work in the UK are due to migraine attacks.
That accounts for between £2.25 billion and £3.42 billion per year due to the high chronic migraine prevalence and severity of the disorder. Moreover, when adding the costs for prescription drugs and GP visits, the total amount spent by the NHS goes up to £150 million per year on migraines and £250 million per year on all headache disorders.
38. The disability caused by migraine leads to lower employment status.
Episodic migraine is responsible for about 10% of occupational disabilities, whereas its chronic variant is responsible for 20%. When it comes to the evaluation of severity, 41.7% of migraineurs reported moderate disability and 31.6% severe impairment, preventing them from working peacefully.
More Insightful Migraine Statistics
39. Migraine is one of the conditions most likely to be treated with alternative therapies.
The predictive factors for alternative health care include better education, less inferior health status, holistic approach to health, change in personal worldview due to a transformational experience, and presence of concomitant diseases, such as anxiety, back problems, chronic pain, and urinary tract problems.
Additionally, cultural influences such as feminism, spirituality, and interest in personal growth psychology have also been identified, whereas the dissatisfaction with conventional medicine was not considered a factor, according to migraine statistics by state.
40. Headache education is not provided in undergraduate medical schools in the UK.
Approximately 75% of all medical schools in England do not cover the headache health problems in their curriculum. It’s not surprising why the majority of the healthcare professionals are not familiar with headache and migraine, especially with rare forms with a reported prevalence of 0.01–0.02% and familial predisposition, such as the hemiplegic migraine, statistics demonstrate.
41. The term migraine comes from the ancient Greek word “hemicrania,” which means“half the skull.”
Hippocrates described migraine attacks, visual disturbances during aura, and vomiting. The word was later spread and affirmed by the Greek physician Galen of Pergamon.
42. Trepanning is one of the historical treatments of migraine.
Trepanning is a surgical procedure involving drilling a hole into the skull to release evil spirits from a patient’s head. Besides the high lethality rate of this “treatment,” there was rarely any improvement in symptoms, and this remains among the most shocking migraine headache facts.
43. A single migraine attack can last up to 72 hours.
When taking this into account, it’s not surprising why migraine is considered among the most disabling and debilitating diseases.
44. Specific foods and intense aromas can trigger a migraine.
(American migraine foundation)
Although each person who suffers from migraines can have different triggers, there are a few common culprits that can cause headache episodes. The most common foods known to trigger migraines are those rich in histamine or monosodium glutamate, such as chocolate, cheese, artificial sweeteners (e.g., aspartame), caffeine, meats, etc. Anything with a strong smell may trigger or worsen headache attacks, as revealed by the migraine statistics from 2018.
Furthermore, when passing through the nose, some odors tease specific nerve receptors, resulting in an aversion to smells or so-called osmophobia, which is a common symptom of migraine.
45. Migraine affects the sexual activity of the affected people.
One-quarter of migraineurs stated that the symptoms of migraine headaches negatively influence the quality and frequency of their sex lives. About 5% of the patients listed migraines as the main cause for the end of a relationship or a divorce. Interestingly, for many women, sex can serve as a migraine relief with no need for any of the many types of migraine medication.
How debilitating is a migraine?
The painful migraine attacks are very debilitating to people who suffer from them; thus, they usually require prescribed medications or other treatments. Unfortunately, over-the-counter pills and alternative therapies are rarely adequate in coping with the symptoms of migraine. In line with this, more research is needed on the causes of the disease, pathological mechanisms, and treatment options to find a definitive cure for the disease.
Do people die from migraine?
One, often distressing question is whether people can die from a migraine? It’s assumed that a migraine attack can kill a patient with other health problems, such as a vascular disease. On the other hand, a migraine itself can double the risk of heart attack and stroke, as well as dying young during a migraine episode. When we take into account the high risk of developing psychiatric disorders like depression and anxiety, suicide risk can also increase.
Are migraines lifelong?
The migraine is thought to be a lifelong condition that affects mainly the productive working and parenting years of those affected. However, the severity of migraine symptoms can vary throughout a person’s lifetime. As we described above, the severe headache or migraine decreased with age, and after the age of 75, the prevalence in men and women drops significantly.
Are there different types of migraines?
The International Classification of Headache Disorders (ICHD-3) defined seven different types of migraines: two major forms (without aura and with aura), four subtypes of migraine with aura, and chronic migraine. Doctors can diagnose these types of migraines with strict criteria based on the current research data available.
The importance of knowing exactly which type of migraine a patient has is crucial to choose a proper treatment option. There are also terms such as menstrual and morning migraines used by people without being classified officially.
When it comes to migraines, we know many things but, a lot still remains unknown, such as the causes and the availability of effective treatment. Although migraines affect genetically susceptible patients, environmental factors may also come into play, such as specific foods, odors, lights, drugs, and hormones. Migraines come in different forms and are usually debilitating.
Therefore, scientific studies are beneficial to understand what happens in the brain during the migraine attacks, to identify different triggers, get clues about the treatment, make progress in the fight with the disease, or even eliminate migraines for good. The migraine statistics based on the current scientific evidence help us focus on specific aspects of the disease and are critical for a better understanding of the factors and data surrounding the illness.