Headache disorders afflict 50 percent of people worldwide

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Migraines, sinus headaches, tension pain. Sound familiar? Almost everyone has experienced a headache at some point in their life.

New research quantifies how many people worldwide have headache disorders – and it’s a lot.

When a group of researchers trawled through over 350 scientific publications on headaches, they found that 52 percent of people worldwide have experienced a headache disorder in the past year.

Headache disorders range from annoying to disabling. They include migraines, tension headaches, cluster headaches and headaches related to things like exercise or sinusitis.

The researchers estimate that on any given day, 15.8 percent of people worldwide have a headache.

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Deciding which studies to include was no small task. The scientists carefully refined their criteria, but they found that many published studies on headache disorders “were deficient in their reporting” despite ongoing attempts to standardize methodologies.

The data revealed differences in headache disorders by criteria like gender and geographic area. Females had more headaches than males – 57.8 percent compared to 44.4 percent. While 8.6 percent of males reported migraines, 17 percent of females had the disorder. High-income countries reported more headaches than low-income countries.

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That is partly a matter of data collection, the researchers say. They call for more studies of headaches in low-income countries to help reveal more accurate numbers.

While the data suggests that headache prevalence may be increasing, the authors urge caution given the variance in data collection.

What they do know is that headaches are extremely prevalent. “The prevalence of headache disorders remains high worldwide and the burden of different types may impact many,” says Lars Jacob Stovner, a professor of neurology at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology who led the research, in a news release. “We should endeavor to reduce this burden through prevention and better treatment.”

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