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10 Migraine Facts & Statistics that Everyone Needs to Know

Under: Migraine & Headache

Migraine is the second leading cause of disability in the United States and the third most prevalent illness in the world. For those of us who experience these debilitating symptoms, we are well aware of the toll they can take on our social life, productivity, and overall well-being. But despite being so common, migraines are also incredibly misunderstood.

Whether you are a recurrent migraine sufferer, or know someone who is, we’ve put together a list of some of the most eye-opening facts and statistics to help you get a clearer picture of this condition and put to rest some of the most common misconceptions surrounding this disabling disorder.

Migraine Facts & Stats

A Debilitating Disease

For folks who’ve never suffered through a blinding migraine, it’s easy to think that it’s “just a bad headache.” But severe head pain is just a symptom of migraine, which is, in fact, a neurological disease with a wide range of symptoms and severity.

As far as health conditions go, migraine is more prevalent than asthma and diabetes combined, affecting over one billion women, men, and children worldwide. Although symptoms vary from person to person, some of the most common ones include:

  • A throbbing or pounding headache, usually one-sided, of varying intensity. Sometimes the pain may be hard to endure or even unbearable. Children often have pain on both sides of head.
  • Temporary perceptual disturbances, known as auras, such as flashing lights, trouble speaking, vertigo, brain fog, and more, that precede the actual migraine attack
  • Nausea and/or vomiting
  • Mood swings
  • Frequent yawning
  • Depression
  • Fatigue or low energy
  • Food cravings

migraine facts

Migraine and Women

Three in every four migraine sufferers are women, and more than 25% of women have had at least one migraine. But why? Most factors that trigger these disabling headaches are still unknown, but scientists have found clear links between hormonal fluctuations and the likelihood of developing a migraine.

The main culprit, or so it seems, is estrogen: women’s primary sex hormone. A woman’s menstrual cycle can be divided into two phases: the follicular phase and the luteal phase. Right after ovulation, at the beginning of the luteal phase, estrogen levels drop precipitously, slowly rising up again at the beginning of the following cycle in preparation for ovulation.

This quick drop of estrogen, researchers believe, may be responsible for migraines and so-called menstrual headaches in women of reproductive age. In fact, research suggests that migraines tend to improve, and often even disappear entirely, after menopause when estrogen and other hormone levels stop fluctuating.

The Economic Burden of Migraines

Like all disabling health conditions, migraines pose a significant economic burden for both the sufferer and society at large. The Migraine Research Foundation estimates that more than 90% of people who suffer from migraines are unable to function normally during an attack. That means that every day, tens of thousands of individuals have to miss work or school as a direct consequence of migraines. In addition, in households with at least one migraine sufferer, healthcare costs are estimated to be up to 70 percent higher.

According to the Journal of Managed Care, the economic impact of migraines in the United States is estimated to be around $11 billion in direct costs (healthcare services) and $11 billion in indirect costs (short and long-term disability, time off work, loss of productivity).

A Family Affair

Genetics play a huge role in migraines. Research shows that although environmental factors can cause migraine, there are certain genetic variations that can significantly increase a person’s risk of developing this neurological condition. In fact, according to the American Migraine Foundation, having one parent with migraine increases the risk of developing migraine by 50%, and if both parents have migraine the risk increases to 75%.

Babies and Migraine

Many people are surprised to learn that babies and toddlers can get migraines too, although there are some key differences in symptoms, especially in children younger than six years old. Some of the most notable differences include:

  • Abdominal symptoms – when young children experience migraine, they often do so in the form of abdominal migraine, which is a type of headache-less migraine marked by abdominal pain. The pain associated with abdominal migraine is usually located in the middle of the belly, around the navel. It may feel like soreness or a dull ache of moderate to severe intensity. Some children also experience nausea, vomiting, a pale appearance, and/or sensitivity to light and sound.
  • Attacks are often less frequent than in adults
  • Migraine headache episodes tend to be shorter (30 minutes to 48 hours)
  • Common precursors and symptoms of child migraine; cyclical vomiting, abdominal pain, vertigo, and sensitivity to light
  • Child migraine is often under-diagnosed by doctors, possibly due to the prominence of non-headache symptoms
children's migraine

Do your kids suffer from migraine?

Overlapping Conditions

For a lot of people, migraine is also associated with other illnesses, especially mental health conditions. Depression is a particularly common overlapping condition; according to the American Migraine Foundation, a person suffering from episodic migraine (headache 14 days or fewer each month), has a 20% chance of developing depression. Someone with chronic migraine (more than 15 headaches per month) has a 30 to 50% chance of depression and an even greater likelihood of having generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, or PTSD.

Migraine is also comorbid with a number of pain disorders, including fibromyalgia and arthritis. In addition, severe head pain, which is one of the hallmarks of migraine, is associated with a higher risk of hypertension, high cholesterol, and coronary heart disease. Nearly 35% of chronic migraine sufferers are also diagnosed with hypertension.

ER Visits

Every 10 seconds, someone in the United States goes to the emergency room (ER) with excruciating head pain. Yearly, 1.2 million hospital visits are for migraine attacks. Some people experience an attack once or twice a month, but more than 4 million people experience chronic daily migraines and at least 15 migraines per month.  Given the pain and symptoms (such as uncontrolled vomiting) associated with severe migraine headaches, ER doctors often administer medications intravenously and focus on rehydrating the person to avoid more serious issues. Many people who go to the ER with a migraine experience such disabling and painful symptoms that they believe they’re having a stroke.


emergency room

Endless Triggers

A trigger is something that a person does, or that happens to them, that can result in developing a migraine attack. Experts have identified hundreds of potential migraine triggers, including foods, activities, weather changes, lifestyle habits, and more. These are a few of the most common triggers:

  • Stress
  • Too little or too much sleep
  • Hormonal changes
  • Alcohol
  • Caffeine
  • Dehydration
  • Foods containing additives, MSG, and/or histamines
  • Medication overuse
  • Physical activity
  • Certain smells
  • Intense light or sounds
  • Migraine without headache?

Similar to abdominal migraines, silent migraines, also known as acephalgic migraines, are a type of migraine that doesn’t cause headache pain. Instead, a person experiencing a silent migraine may experience a range of symptoms, including visual disturbances, nausea, vomiting, light and sound sensitivity, and dizziness. These symptoms can be just as debilitating as traditional migraine headaches and can last for hours or even days. Silent migraines are thought to be caused by changes in brain activity and blood flow, and can be triggered by many of the same factors as regular migraines. Ocular and Visual migraines are a type of silent migraine.

Different Types of Migraine

There are many different types of migraines, each with its own unique symptoms and management strategies. The most common type is migraine with aura, which is characterized by sensory disturbances and other symptoms, such as trouble speaking. Migraines without aura, on the other hand, don’t have visual disturbances but do still cause intense head pain along with other symptoms, like nausea, vomiting, and light and sound sensitivity.

Other types include chronic migraine; vestibular migraines, which feature vertigo or balance problems); hemiplegic migraines, which can cause temporary paralysis on one side of the body; menstrual migraines; retinal migraines; and more.

To Wrap Things Up

Migraine is a complex and debilitating neurological condition that affects more than a billion people worldwide. A migraine is not just a bad headache, but a serious health issue that can have significant impacts on a person’s quality of life and economic status. Its overlapping conditions, particularly those related to mental health, further compound the burden of living with this disabling condition.  There are many effective options for migraine sufferers but not everything works for everyone.