Mayo Clinic study shows increased incidence of migraine headaches

October 20, 1999

ROCHESTER, MINN. -- A new Mayo Clinic study shows the incidence of migraine headaches in women increased 56 percent during the 1980s while the incidence of migraine headaches in men increased 34 percent during the same period.

The study is based on the medical records of 1,342 patients in Olmsted County, Minn., who received a migraine diagnosis from a physician for the first time over a five-year period. The study will appear in the Oct. 22, 1999 edition of Neurology.

According to the study, women age 20-29 years experienced the highest incidence and the most striking increase in incidence over time -- an increase from approximately 600 new cases to almost 1,000 new cases per 100,000 women per year.

"There are several possible reasons for this trend," says Walter Rocca, M.D., a Mayo Clinic epidemiologist and the senior author of the study. "Changes in the social environment during the 1980s increased the stress imposed on young women and stress may be a major cause of the increase in migraine. However, other causes may have played a role as well."

"Patients have been progressively more frequent in consulting their physicians about headaches," says Jerry Swanson, M.D., a Mayo Clinic neurologist and study author. "And we have also observed that the time period between having a first migraine attack to consulting a physician shortened during the 80's."

The study points to other possible stress-related causes of the increase in migraine for women including: a rise in the number of single-parent households, an increase in the number of women in the workforce and an increase in women who are dieting for weight loss.

"We encourage patients who suffer from migraine headaches to seek treatment for their symptoms," says Dr. Swanson. "This study supports the impression that migraine is becoming more frequent and emphasizes that physicians must be able to recognize the disorder and treat patients effectively."

Migraine headaches last for a period of hours and are usually pulsating in nature, are of moderate or severe intensity that inhibits or prohibits daily activities, are aggravated by routine physical activity and are usually accompanied by nausea/vomiting and sensitivity to light or sound or both.
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