Migraine is one of the world’s most common illnesses, but there’s still so much that remains unknown regarding its cause(s), effective treatments, and the extent to which the condition impacts the lives of patients. In this post, we’ll dive into some surprising migraine statistics that can shed light on who migraine affects and how. We’ll also lay out newly discovered migraine facts from recent research — all of which may be of help to patients looking to manage and minimize its impact on their lives.
Surprising Migraine Statistics
Migraine affects 37 million people in the United States alone.
American Migraine Foundation
Despite being the third most prevalent illness and seventh leading cause of disability in the world, the migraine experience is different from patient to patient, painting a diverse spectrum. Some experience migraine with aura, while others experience no aura at all. Some experience chronic migraine (15 or more attacks in a month), while others may experience more occasional migraine attacks. Scientists are yet to understand the exact physiological mechanisms behind migraine, but one thing’s for sure: if you suffer from migraine, you are not alone.
More than 4 million adults experience chronic daily migraine.
Migraine Research Foundation
Chronic migraine is characterized by having at least 15 migraine days in a month. Over 20% of those who suffer migraine chronically are disabled, pointing to the staggering impact it can have on quality of life.
40-60% of patients experience subtle symptoms before an attack.
These symptoms may include constipation, depression, diarrhea, drowsiness, food cravings, irritability, and more. They’re part of a pre-attack phase commonly referred to as the prodrome phase. For those who experience the prodrome phase, this foreshadowing could present a chance to seek solutions and self-care before an attack hits. By paying attention to these symptoms when they occur and being proactive, these patients may in fact be able to minimize the impact of an oncoming attack.
Migraine costs patients over $20 billion annually.
New York Times
Every year migraine patients pay out at least $11 billion in medically related costs. Many of these costs, such as doctor visits and prescription medications, are recurring. Patients also incur another $11 billion in indirect costs, such as wages from days of work lost, due to the disabling nature of the illness.
However, it’s not only patients who are affected. The economic burden of migraine on U.S. employers is significant and worthy of mention in its own right. A 2020 study published in the American Journal of Managed Care illustrates this burden through four case studies spanning employers in four different economic sectors. It estimates that migraine has:
- a $20.8 million annual economic impact (direct costs + lost production time costs) on a mid-Atlantic school district with 18,800 full-time employees.
- a $99 million annual economic impact on a U.S. manufacturing plant with 138,000 full-time employees.
- a $180 million annual economic impact on a national retail pharmacy chain with 250,000 full-time employees.
- a $68 million annual economic impact on an entertainment company with 90,000 employees.
Women are twice as likely to have had a migraine in the past three months.
Centers for Disease Control & Prevention
As a percentage of the population, migraine affects about 18% of women in the U.S. versus only 6-9% of men. Experts believe migraine occurs in women more often than men as a result of more frequent and extreme fluctuations in hormone levels. Director of the Johns Hopkins Headache Center Naumin Tariq explains that the hormonal shifts which accompany menstruation, oral contraceptives, pregnancy, and menopause can all act as triggers of migraine attacks.
About 30% of those who suffer from migraine experience aura.
A migraine headache with aura is commonly referred to as classic migraine. The aura consists of sensory disturbances that happen before or at the same time as a migraine attack. These disturbances are most often visual in nature, but they can also present as sensory changes in the limbs or difficulty with verbal speech. Researchers have hypothesized that migraine with aura may be hereditary.
Between 85-90% of all migraine patients have sensitivity to light.
American Headache Society
The reason for light sensitivity during a migraine attack, also known as photophobia, was largely a mystery until Dr. Rami Burstein led a groundbreaking study in 2010. As his team studied blind patients with migraine, they discovered that these patients could be divided into two groups: those who could still sense the presence of light and those who couldn’t. For those who were still able to sense light, it made their migraines more painful during an attack. Eventually, Dr. Burstein and his team determined that this is because of a direct pathway connecting the retina to the part of the brain that interacts with the neurons that are active during migraines.
People between age 18 and 44 have the highest rate of migraine.
In a study published in Headache, 17.9% of those surveyed in this age group reported having migraine or severe headache within the previous three months. That rate declined dramatically in older demographics, as only 5.1% of those over the age of 75 reported having symptoms during the same window.
There are about 500 certified headache specialists in the U.S.
Migraine Research Foundation
Taking into account that 39 million people in the U.S suffer from migraine, that means there are nearly 80,000 patients in potential need of care for every one specialist. This could be a part of the reason that only 4% of the migraine patients who seek out medical care consult a pain or headache specialist. For those who are unable to see a specialist, learning about natural ways to help migraines could provide a potential source of more accessible relief.
60% of patients see improvement with therapeutic intervention.
Journal of Headache Pain
As part of a study published in 2018, 221 patients of the Naval Okinawa Neurology Clinic were treated for migraine symptoms. After intervention, 56% saw decreased headache severity, and 60% of patients reported a higher quality of life compared to two years before they received care. This study could be of particular interest to the 96% of migraine sufferers we mentioned above, who are unable to see a specialist for their symptoms.
Migraine Facts From New Research
Narrow-band green light can actually soothe migraine attacks.
Remember Dr. Rami Burstein’s research from earlier in this article? Following their discovery of the pathway connecting the retina and the thalamus, Dr. Burstein and his team set out over the next four years to better understand the effects of various colors of light on the migraine experience. What they found was that white, blue, amber, and red lights all exacerbated not only light sensitivity, but other symptoms of the migraine attack as well. However, they were surprised to find that a single, narrow band of green light actually lessened the intensity of migraine symptoms during an attack.
It is this discovery that gave rise to the concept of narrow band green light therapy, which has shown promise in a number of applications. For migraine sufferers, a source of narrow-band green light such as the Allay Lamp could be a cost-effective way to mitigate the negative effects of a migraine attack.
Weather, smells, sleep, and stress are common migraine triggers.
A 2016 survey of nearly 4,000 U.S. migraine patients revealed that the five most prevalent migraine triggers for patients are shifts in weather, strong smells or perfumes, sleep issues (such as too much or too little), and emotional stress. The relationship between stress and migraine is particularly interesting, as it’s often the drop in stress levels from one day to the next, known as the “let-down,” that triggers migraine activity.
Yoga can be an effective add-on in migraine treatment.
160 patients with episodic migraine were assigned to two groups for a study published in May of 2020 — one that only received medical treatment and another that included yoga as an add-on to their treatment. The trial ran between April 2017 and August 2018, with a total of 114 patients completing it. Of these patients, those in the yoga group showed a significant reduction in headache intensity and frequency, as well as the number of pills they were taking, versus the other group.
Mindfulness meditation may decrease headache intensity & frequency.
Chinese Medicine Journal
A 2018 analysis of 10 randomized controlled trials and one clinical trial showed that mindfulness meditation led to significant improvements in headache intensity for the 350 patients across the studies. These patients also saw a notable decrease in headache frequency, positioning meditation as an affordable and accessible add-on therapy with positive implications for patients who find ways to integrate it into their daily lives.
We’re learning more every day.
These migraine facts and statistics are just the tip of the iceberg in terms of what medical researchers and epidemiologists will uncover in the days and years to come. As this knowledge comes to the forefront, so too will more accessible and effective solutions to help patients manage migraine. As we like to say at Allay, there’s a green light at the end of the tunnel.
Want more light reading from our team?
- 9 Surprising Migraine Trends: Tracking Treatment Developments
- Migraine Diary Tips: How to Keep Track of Your Headaches
- How to Manage Migraine: Strategies for Relief & Prevention