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Medical study: More than half of world’s population suffers from headaches

Researchers estimate that 15.8 percent of the world’s population have a headache on any given day.

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By Stephen Beech via SWNS

More than half the world's population suffers from headaches - with women far more affected than men, reveals new research.

Almost twice as many women (17 percent) suffer migraines as men (8.6 percent), while more than double the number of women (six percent) have a headache 15 or more days per month as men (2.9 percent), according to the findings.

Tired black woman with face mask having a headache while lying down on sofa at home.
Tension headaches are common. (True Touch Lifestyle/Shutterstock)

Based on more than 350 previous studies, the research team estimated that 52 percent of the global population have experienced a headache disorder within a given year, with 14 percent reporting a migraine, while 26 percent had a tension-type headache and 4.6 percent said they suffered a headache for 15 or more days per month.

From the 12 studies that reported on headaches during the previous 24 hours, the researchers estimate that 15.8 percent of the world’s population have a headache on any given day, and almost half of those had a migraine (seven percent).

All types of headaches were more common in females than males, most markedly for migraines.

Researchers from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology reviewed 357 publications, dating from 1961 until the end of 2020, to estimate how widespread headaches are around the world.

Portrait of stressed business woman with a headache
(ESB Professional/Shutterstock)

The majority of publications considered in the review reported on adults between the ages of 20 and 65, but some also included teenagers and children as young as five, while others included people over 65.

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

Most studies reported on headache prevalence during the previous year. But some studies reported on headache prevalence for much shorter periods, including instances of headache within the last 24 hours.

Lead author Prof. Stovner said: “We found that the prevalence of headache disorders remains high worldwide and the burden of different types may impact many.

"We should endeavor 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 team acknowledged that the majority of publications they reviewed came from high-income countries with good healthcare systems, so the findings may not reflect every country.

Prof. Stovner added: “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 percent 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 analyze the different causes of headaches that varied across groups to target prevention and treatment more effectively.”

The findings were published in The Journal of Headache and Pain.

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