Headache A Global Phenomenon; Affects More Than 50 Per Cent

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Headache is quite normal for everyone. Well, is this a global phenomenon? The truth as claimed by a group of researchers is that 52 per cent of the world population suffer from some form of headache disorder each year.

A team led by epidemiologists from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology summarized epidemiological headache studies from 1961 to 2020. The data included general headaches, migraines and tension-type headaches.


The authors reviewed by publications mostly from high-income countries. They estimate that global prevalence for migraines is 14 percent, and 20 percent for tension type headaches. They noted that each day 15.8 percent of the world’s population had headache.


The study showed that all types of headaches were more common in females than in males. They found migraines showing the largest difference (17 percent in females and 8.6 percent in males). Women were also more likely to report their headaches as an ongoing health issue with six per cent of females reporting they had a headache on 15 or more days per month, compared to 2.9 percent in males.


The authors found an increase in migraine. They related the increase in migraine prevalence over time to environmental, physical, behavioural or psychological changes.


According to WHO, headache such as migraine, tension-type headache and cluster headache and are reported to be the most common disorders of the nervous system.

WHO Key facts
  • Headache disorders are among the most common disorders of the nervous system.
  • It has been estimated that almost half of the adult population have had a headache at least once within the last year.
  • Headache disorders, which are characterized by recurrent headache, are associated with personal and societal burdens of pain, disability, damaged quality of life, and financial cost.
  • Worldwide, a minority of people with headache disorders are diagnosed appropriately by a health-care provider. Headache has been underestimated, under-recognized and under-treated throughout the world.

The WHO estimates show that prevalence among adults of current headache disorder is about 50 per cent. Half to three quarters of adults aged 18-65 years in the world have had headache in the last year and, among those individuals, 30 per cent or more have reported migraine. Headache on 15 or more days every month affects 1.7-4% of the world’s adult population.



  • It most often begins at puberty and most affects those aged between 35 and 45 years.
  • It is more common in women, usually by a factor of about 2:1, because of hormonal influences.
  • The activation of a mechanism deep in the brain that leads to release of pain-producing inflammatory substances around the nerves and blood vessels of the head causes Migraine.
  • It is recurrent often life-long and characterized by recurring attacks.


  • Episodic ITH, occurring on fewer than 15 days per month, is reported by more than 70% of some populations.
  • Chronic TTH, occurring on more than 15 days per month, affects 1-3% of adults.
  • TTH often begins during the teenage years, affecting three women to every two men.
  • Its mechanism may be stress-related or associated with musculoskeletal problems in the neck.
  • Episodic TTH attacks usually last a few hours, but can persist for several days.
  • Chronic TTH can be unremitting and is much more disabling than episodic TTH. This headache is described as pressure or tightness, often like a band around the head, sometimes spreading into or from the neck.


  • CH is relatively uncommon affecting fewer than 1 in 1000 adults, affecting six men to each woman.
  • Most people developing CH are in their 20s or older.
  • It is characterised by frequently recurring (up to several times a day), brief but extremely severe headache, usually focused in or around one eye, with tearing and redness of the eye, the nose runs or is blocked on the affected side and the eyelid may droop. CH has episodic and chronic forms.


  • MOH is caused by chronic and excessive use of medication to treat headache.
  • MOH is the most common secondary headache disorder
  • It may affect up to 500 of some populations, women more than men.
  • MOH occurs by definition on more days than nor, is oppressive, persistent and often at its worst on awakening.


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