Pain Report Highlights Uneven Toll of Migraines

The Institute of Medicine's recent report on chronic pain presents data on the toll of severe headaches and migraines-and exactly whom they tend to afflict.

Approximately 116 million American adults suffer from chronic pain, more than are affected by heart disease, cancer, and diabetes combined. The resulting price tag in the form of medical treatment and lost productivity is between $560 and $635 billion per year. These are the alarming top-line numbers in a wide-ranging report on chronic pain released last week by the Institute of Medicine, Relieving Pain in America: A Blueprint for Transforming Prevention, Care, Education, and Research.

Dig a little deeper, and the report presents some interesting data on the toll of severe headaches and migraines—and exactly whom they tend to afflict:

  • A 1999 estimate put the annual cost of headaches at $14 billion, only $1 billion of which consisted of medical costs. (Perhaps because headache sufferers tend to grow frustrated with their lack of improvement and give up on medical care.)
  • The 2009 National Health Interview Survey found that, over a three-month period, 16% of American adults experienced a migraine or severe headache.
  • In 2010, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) found that among American adults, women were more than twice as likely as men to have a severe headache or migraine over a three-month period—21.9% to 10.1%.
  • The National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey has found that 17% of children aged 4-18 experience frequent or severe headaches in a given year. Until the age of 12, the rate is roughly the same for boys and girls, though after that the rate for girls begins to outpace that for boys.
  • In 2010, the NCHS found correlations between the likelihood that one suffered from severe headache or migraine and one’s education level, one’s income level, and whether one lives in a metropolitan area or not: Those with no high school diploma or a GED were 33% more likely to be afflicted than those with at least some college; those with income below the poverty level were 76% more likely to be afflicted than those with income over four times the poverty level; and those living outside metropolitan areas were 25% more likely to be afflicted than those living inside metropolitan areas.