(ORDO NEWS) — For some, a headache means taking an aspirin. But many of us suffer from more constant and severe headaches; a new study has assessed the extent of this disorder worldwide, and the findings are staggering.
A team led by epidemiologists from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology summarized data from epidemiological studies of headache from 1961 to the end of 2020; the data included general headache, migraine and tension headache, and showed that 52 percent of people suffer from some form of headache each year.
The 357 publications reviewed were mostly from high-income countries. The group included studies in which participants were sampled not only within clinical trials, but also in a variety of settings, including company employees, university students, and hospital staff.
Overall, the authors estimate the global prevalence of migraine at 14 percent and tension-type headache at 26 percent.
“Every day, 15.8 percent of the world’s population experienced a headache,” the authors note grimly.
The researchers also found that all types of headaches were more common in women than in men, with migraine varying the most (17 percent in women and 8.6 percent in men).
Women were also more likely to report headaches as an ongoing health problem, with 6 percent of women reporting headaches 15 or more days per month, compared to 2.9 percent of men.
Many of the studies reviewed made their own estimates of global headache prevalence, but they tended to vary greatly.
Modeling has shown that 6 percent of the variation in migraine estimates can be explained by different years of study publication, with prevalence estimates increasing with later publication. However, there was no association between publication date and other types of headache.
Although the migraine appears to be on the rise, the team notes that this is not the only possible explanation.
“The apparent increase in the prevalence of migraine over time may be real, possibly related to environmental, physical, behavioral or psychological changes, but more likely to be due to methodological changes over the years leading to improved methods of access and involvement and improved diagnostic tools” , say the authors.
When the authors took into account methodological factors such as screening questions, sample size, year of publication, and how diagnostic criteria were applied, they were able to explain 29.9% of the variation in migraine scores, and less for other headache categories.
Since most of the studies were conducted in high-income countries with developed health care systems, the authors caution against generalizing the results to all countries. If more data could be collected from middle- and low-income countries, we would have a more accurate global estimate.
While some uncertainty remains about the exact figures for global prevalence of headache, this review, along with other studies, consistently demonstrates that headache conditions are a huge burden worldwide.
The 2019 iteration of the Global Burden of Disease study found migraines alone to be the second leading cause of disability and first among women under 50, highlighting headache disorders as a major health problem worldwide.
“We have found that the prevalence of headache disorders remains high worldwide, and the burden of different types can affect many. We must strive to reduce this burden through prevention and improved treatment,” says neurologist Lars Jakob Stovner from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology.
“To assess the impact of such efforts, we need to be able to track prevalence and burden in the community. Our study helps us understand how to improve our methods.”
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