Over 50% of global population suffer from headache disorders

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Study says 52% of the global population are affected by a headache disorder every year, with around 14% reporting migraines

‘The global prevalence of headache: an update, with analysis of the influences of methodological factors on prevalence estimates’ is unlocking and collating data on the prevalence of headache disorders around the globe.

Thanks to a team from Norwegian University of Science and Technology, this analysis is shining a light on how many people are continually suffering, while attempting to navigate their daily lives.

What are headache disorders?

According to WHO, headache disorders are characterised by recurrent headache such as migraine, tension-type headache and cluster headache and are reported to be the most common disorders of the nervous system.

Published in The Journal of Headache and Pain, this research is shedding light on just how many people globally are being affected by this disabling condition.

According to the authors, studies on headache prevalence vary greatly in their methods and samples, which may impact how the global rates of headaches are estimated.

Cataloguing the chaos of previous headache studies

In reviewing 357 publications from between 1961 to the end of 2020, the Norwegian University of Science and Technology authors were able to final a global prevalence estimation. The majority of publications considered in the review reported on adults between 20 and 65, but some included adolescents, children down to 5, and elderly people above 65.

Lars Jacob Stovner and colleagues also measured the differences in methods across the studies they reviewed, building on a previous report from 2007.

They modelled these differences in methods and how they are associated with estimates in headache prevalence. The variety in methodology for the studies proved complex with most studies reporting on headache prevalence during the past year and others on headache prevalence across the whole lifetime and some for much shorter periods, including instances of headache within the last day.

The prevalence of headache disorders remains high, worldwide

Based on the 357 publications reviewed, the authors have estimated that 52% of the global population have experienced a headache disorder within a given year, with 14% reporting a migraine, 26% reporting a tension-type headache and 4.6% reporting a headache for 15 or more days per month.

From the 12 studies that reported on headache during the last day, the authors estimate that 15.8% of the world’s population have a headache on any given day, and almost half of those individuals report a migraine (7%).

Lars Jacob Stovner, lead author, said: “We found that the prevalence of headache disorders remains high worldwide and the burden of different types may impact many. We should endeavour to reduce this burden through prevention and better treatment. 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.”

The gender disparity and other factors that influence headache disorders

According to the team – all types of headaches were more common in females than males, most markedly for migraines (17% in females compared to 8.6% in males) and headaches for 15 or more days per month (6% in females compared to 2.9% in males).

The authors acknowledged that the majority of publications they reviewed came from high-income countries with good healthcare systems, so this may not reflect the healthcare situation in every country.

Further investigation into middle and low-income countries would help present a more accurate global estimate. However, to obtain data from as many countries as possible, the authors did use a broad range of studies that sampled participants outside of clinical settings, such as employees of a company, university students and hospital staff, amongst others.

Lars Jacob Stovner said: “Compared to our previous report and global estimates, the data does suggest that headaches and migraines rates may be increasing. However, given that we could explain only 30% or less of the variation in headache estimates with the measures we looked at, it would be premature to conclude headaches are definitively increasing. What is clear is that overall, headache disorders are highly prevalent worldwide and can be a high burden.

“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.”

“the data does suggest that headaches and migraines rates may be increasing”

The authors say that their study will provide a baseline in how to estimate headache rates across the world and future research could build on this to improve methods for measuring the success of interventions and treatment.


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