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Facts and Figures About Headaches

By: Kathryn Senior PhD - Updated: 19 Jun 2010 | comments*Discuss
Headache Headaches Headache Causes

A headache is a common ailment that affects people worldwide. It is difficult to even estimate the number of people suffering from a headache at any one time but the facts and figures that are available about headaches make interesting reading.

Headaches in the USA

A staggering 45 million Americans are thought to experience regular headaches that adversely affect their lives. About 7 million of them are thought to get tension headaches that are chronic and that last for hours, during most days. It is not surprising that the market for pain killers is huge – estimated at 2 billion US$ annually. But the cost of headaches in the US goes deeper – people who suffer very badly from headaches have regular time off work and around 157 million working days are lost each year.

Migraine Headaches

Three quarters of all people who have migraine headaches are women, with only a quarter of sufferers men. Overall, migraine affects one in every ten adults in the world, with most migraine attacks experienced be people between the ages of 25 and 55. Ethnic origin is also an important factor – white Caucasian people are more at risk of migraine attacks than Asians or people who are black.

Worldwide, the percentage of people in the population who suffer from migraine varies quite a lot. In the UK, 11 per cent of us get migraines, which is similar to France (12 per cent) and Norway (9%) and other countries in Europe and to the USA and Canada. For some unknown reason, 17 per cent of adults in Denmark report migraines but they are apparently virtually non-existent in Japan. The record migraine rate goes to Peru – around 32 per cent of adults there report having regular migraines.

Migraine Triggers

Many things have been reported to trigger a migraine attack. Some of the most common are: alcohol, changes in temperature or weather, cheese and other dairy products, bananas, citrus fruits, figs, raisins, pickled foods, monosodium glutamate, processed meats such as salami, sweeteners such as saccharine, foods made with yeast and nuts. Stress, getting too much or too little sleep, bright lights, smoke and other strong smells and over exertion can also bring on an attack. For women, one of the worst triggers is their period – migraines are much more common during menstruation.

No Headache... Ever

There are some lucky people around who report never having had a headache. The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke have evidence that 10 per cent of men and 5 per cent of women don’t have a single headache during their entire lives.

The Most Common Headache

Migraines are quite common but only account for a fifth of all headaches. The world’s most common headache is the tension headache with nearly 70 per cent of men reporting that they suffer from such headaches during periods of stress. In women, tension headaches are even more common, affected nearly 90 per cent of all women. People usually get their first tension headache between the age of 9 and 12 years.

Headaches in the UK

Each day nearly 200 000 people in the UK suffer a migraine and half of them miss school or work because of it. Nearly 6 million adults in Britain get migraines – which represents a seventh of the adult population. Fifty per cent of people who get migraines have, on average, 12 attacks each year. A typical attack lasts 24 hours and 80 per cent of people getting migraines say the pain is very severe and disabling.

The costs to the NHS of migraine is thought to be around £150 million annually, which covers the cost of drugs prescribed to help sufferers cope with attacks and to prevent attacks, and for visits to GPs. Time off work costs the UK economy about £2.25 billion each year, with around 5 million working weeks lost annually. Overall, taking other causes of headache into account, headache pain costs Britain about £7 billion pounds in a year – but we only spend £250 million in the healthcare budget trying to help people who get headaches.

Headaches Worldwide

The World Health Organization has put migraine right in the top twenty causes of disability because of the sheer numbers of people who are affected. The WHO concludes that reducing headaches is a cause for concern from a humanitarian as well as an economic point of view.

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