Headache disorder? It's a world of pain for the majority

More than 60 years of data shows the plight of headache and migraine sufferers

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WORLD OF PAIN: Around 52 per cent of the global population has a headache disorder. Picture: Shutterstock.

WORLD OF PAIN: Around 52 per cent of the global population has a headache disorder. Picture: Shutterstock.

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If you suffer headaches, you're not alone. Around 52 per cent of people have a headache disorder.

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On any given day, more than 15 per cent of the world's population is suffering with a headache, according to a new paper. That means 1.1 billion people have a headache today.

On top of that, 52 per cent of people have a headache disorder (recurrent headaches) every year, 14 per cent of the world endure migraines, and 4.6 per cent have headaches for 15 or more days per month.

The meta-analysis, published in The Journal of Headache and Pain, examined the results of 357 different studies on headache prevalence published between 1961 and 2020.

The researchers scrutinised each of these studies, collected from medical databases, and combined their results in a complex statistical analysis.

Twelve of the studies collected data on whether the participants had had a headache in the last day, which the researchers used to conclude that 15.8 per cent of people have a headache each day.

"We found that the prevalence of headache disorders remains high worldwide and the burden of different types may impact many," says lead author Lars Jacob Stovner, a professor of neurology at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, Norway.

"We should endeavour to reduce this burden through prevention and better treatment."

While headaches are mostly minor ailments, they're a public health concern because they're so common.

"To measure the effect of such efforts, we must be able to monitor prevalence and burden in societies. Our study helps us understand how to improve our methods," says Stovner.

The researchers also found that headaches were more common in females than males, especially with migraines (17 per cent in females, 8.6 per cent in males) and 15+ days per month of headaches (6 per cent in females, 2.9 per cent in males).

While headaches are mostly minor ailments, they're a public health concern because they're so common.

The researchers point out that while their review was global in scope, less headache research has been done in lower and middle-income countries. This means that their results are more influenced by data from wealthy countries.

They've also spotted a slight increase in headache prevalence since they last did a review, in 2007.

"Compared to our previous report and global estimates, the data does suggest that headaches and migraines rates may be increasing," says Stovner.

"However, given that we could explain only 30 per cent or less of the variation in headache estimates with the measures we looked at, it would be premature to conclude headaches are definitively increasing."

The researchers urge for more studies to be undertaken in low and middle-income countries.

"It may also be of interest in future to analyse the different causes of headaches that varied across groups, to target prevention and treatment more effectively," says Stovner.

  • This article is published in partnership with Cosmos Magazine. Cosmos is produced by The Royal Institution of Australia.

The story Headache disorder? It's a world of pain for the majority first appeared on The Canberra Times.

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