Perhaps the most common health condition worldwide is a headache; it quickly becomes a burden to anybody no matter how well they try to live a stress-free healthy lifestyle. Luckily, taking aspirin or even coffee may be all that’s needed to remedy the pain.
While that may be true, we might have a new reason to worry. A recent study published in The Journal of Headache and Pain suggests that headaches, migraines, and tension-type headaches prevalence may have increased in the last six decades, raising the global rates of all types of headaches we’re currently experiencing.
The global prevalence of migraines and headaches
A team of epidemiologists from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology led by Lars Jacob Stovner studied and summarized data from epidemiological research spanning from 1961 to 2020. The data included all types of headaches compared to the global burden of disease (GBD) estimates while paying attention to time trends and geographical variations. The team also analyzed how methodological factors can influence prevalence estimates in the study.
The team reviewed 357 publications which largely contained findings from high-income countries. Although most of the publications included studies of people between the ages of 20 and 65, others involved adolescents and children not younger than 5-years.
The researchers estimated the global prevalence of headache disorder to be 52%, migraines to be 14%, and TTH (tension-type headache) to be 26%; quite the alarming stat for a condition previously thought was not a significant health concern.
According to findings from the research, 15.8% of the world’s population comes down with a headache every day. Further results showed that females were more likely to experience headaches than males. 6% of females in the study told researchers they had a headache on 15 days or more per month, while the percentage for males was much lower at 2.9%.
The study emphasized that global estimates of headache prevalence analyzed in the individual studies were similar over the years. However, a 6% increase in migraine estimates was noticed across the board from oldest to most recent studies.
According to the authors, the apparent migraine increase over the years suggested by the findings may be related to environmental, physical, behavioral, or psychological changes. They added that it could also result from methodological developments over the years leading to better techniques and improved diagnostic instruments, both likely to enhance case ascertainment.
Given that the data studied largely contained research involving participants from high-income countries with better healthcare, there’s some skepticism in assuming results from other developing countries will support these findings. To have a conclusive result, we would also have to analyze data from medium and low-income countries.
At any rate, the exact figures for global headache prevalence remain unclear. The study did not involve an evenly distributed sample size across various countries and health systems. Nevertheless, alongside other research and articles, the study considers migraine a global burden.
Should we be worried?
Research conducted in 2019 involving Lars Jacob Stovner stresses that headache disorders in the disability-adjusted life years (DALY) rankings in the 10-24-year and 25-49 year age group have been neglected in global health policy debates.
As headache prevalence remains high and appears to be rising, it is an overall burden for many. Prevention and better treatment options can significantly reduce its worldwide burden. This study helped us better understand how many people genuinely suffer from this debilitating condition daily and the steps we must take to ease their burden in the future.