Facts About Migraine

36millionlogoFrom the American Migraine Foundation

What is migraine?

  • Migraine is an inherited neurological disorder that is characterized by hyperexcitable brain networks that may be triggered by a variety of stimuli (e.g. alcohol, menstruation, fragrances, light glare), or become active spontaneously (even during sleep), leading to attacks.
  • The attacks often begin with a premonitory phase that may be characterized by severe fatigue, increased urination, yawning, neck pain, or sensitivity to light, noise or odors.
  • In one-third of sufferers, the attacks may proceed into an aura phase prior to onset of the headache. The most common type of aura consists of visual symptoms such as seeing flashing lights, squiggly lines, or losing vision in small areas of the visual field. The aura may also be associated with tingling/numbness on one side of the face and hand, and difficulty understanding or expressing speech.
  • The headache phase of migraine is often moderate or severe in intensity, and can be extremely disabling for sufferers, painful enough to cause work loss and absence from activities with family and friends
  • Head pain is often made worse with routine activities (e.g. walking, climbing stairs).
  • In addition to headache, migraine attacks are often associated with increased sensitivity to environmental stimuli (e.g. lights, sounds, and odors), nausea or vomiting.
  • Migraine attacks may also be associated with sinus pain or pressure, neck pain, dizziness, difficulty with concentration and mental processing, anxiety and other changes in mood.
  • The final post-headache phase is characterized by fatigue, malaise, mood changes, difficulty with concentration, and head pain that may occur with movement, coughing or straining.
  • Migraine headache typically lasts about 24 hours (range of 4 hours to 3 days). However, an attack includes all phases and from beginning to end, can last several days or more.

Migraine – Whom does it affect?

  • Thirty-six million Americans, about 12% of the population, suffer from migraine headaches.
  • One in four households in America has a member with migraine.
  • Migraine is three times more common in women than men. Migraine affects 30% of women over a lifetime.
  • Migraine is most common between the 3rd and 6th decades of life in both men and women. However, migraine affects people of all ages, including children and the elderly.
  • Although most people with migraine have a few attacks or less per month, 3% of the population has chronic migraine. Chronic migraine indicates the presence of at least 15 days of headache each month for at least 6 months.  

The Burden of Migraine

  • Migraine costs the United States more than $20 billion each year. Costs are attributed to direct medical expenses (e.g. doctor visits, medications) and indirect expenses (e.g. missed work, lost productivity).
  • Migraine is disabling. The World Health Organization places migraine as one of the 20 most disabling medical illnesses on the planet.
  • Chronic migraine is even more disabling.
  • Those with migraine are more likely to have depression, anxiety, sleep disorders, other pain conditions, and fatigue
  • People who have a history of experiencing an aura phase have been shown to be at an increased risk for stroke and heart attack.

Why is Migraine Research Important?

  • Despite the fact that migraine is exceedingly common disorder and causes substantial pain, disability and societal burden, the disease is poorly understood, under diagnosed and current treatments are often inadequate. Although scientists have made important breakthroughs that have improved our understanding and treatment of migraine, progress has been slow.
  • A lack of funding for migraine research is one of the major factors that have slowed the speed of new developments in the field.
  • As a nation, we allocate a pittance to migraine research – less than 1% of the budget of the National Institutes of Health – or about $19 million in 2013.  Given the prevalence and magnitude of migraine, $260 million would be right.


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