Migraine facts: the truths behind this debilitating disease

As Lilly works to shine a light on the true faces, science, and burden of migraine around the world, today’s guest blogger is Elena Ruiz de la Torre, Executive Director of the European Migraine and Headache Alliance (EMHA).

I take great joy in being able to support those living with migraine; however, witnessing the unconscious bias that they have to face on a sometimes daily basis can be incredibly frustrating.

I want to share 10 migraine facts that I think all policy makers, payors, health care providers and employers should know if they are to recognize the serious consequences of migraine and play a part in tackling the unhelpful stigmas that surround the disease.

Migraine: the real facts

1. One in seven people globally are affected1:

Although both men and women experience migraines, attacks are three times more common in women2; typically striking between the ages of 30 and 50, when people are raising families and are at their most economically productive.3

2. Many migraine patients experience symptoms on four+ days every month:

As many as 80% of migraine sufferers experience pain they describe as ‘severe' and disabling enough to stop life in its tracks. While the migraine headache/head pain itself (and accompanying nausea, visual disturbances and sensitivity to light and sound) is usually the most intolerable element, migraine symptoms can leave people feeling unwell for extended periods of time after.

3. Attacks rob people of time:

Migraine attacks occur whenever, wherever. While the duration varies widely, an attack can last up to three days, meaning people lose on average 11 productive days per year due to migraine.4

4. Migraine is disabling:

Far from being ‘just a bad headache’, migraine is a complex neurological condition (a disorder of the brain) that is the second leading cause of disability worldwide.5

6. Workplace discrimination is an issue:

Although an established medical condition, many employers do not recognize the serious nature of migraine, so workplace discrimination is common. As many as and one in seven feel that their chances of promotion have been adversely affected.

6. The stigma around migraine is real:

Those affected are often conscious of the negative public image of migraine and many try to hide the true impact of the disease from all except those closest to them.

7. Migraine is strongly associated with mental health conditions:

Mental health concerns such as depression and anxiety can often complicate the care of migraine.6 Thoughts of suicide are over twice as likely in people with migraine than in the general population.7

8. Migraine is a major drain on healthcare resources:

Those living with migraine typical rely on a range of medications and need regular visits to health care professionals. It is estimated that overall health care costs increase as much as 70% for a family affected by migraine than if unaffected.8

Find out how patients in over ten European countries rated their care here.

9. Migraine substantially damages the economy:

Migraine impacts on people’s abilities to contribute fully to the economy. US research calculated a financial impact of over $13 billion in lost work days and $36 billion in lost productivity due to migraine.9 When you add combine direct (i.e. health care expenditure) and indirect costs, the total cost of migraine is estimated at €50 billion annually in Europe alone.10

10. Migraine is largely ignored as a public health issue:

Migraine care has been largely under-funded, migraine research deprioritized and the public health impact of the disease dismissed as a relatively inconsequential.11, 12, 13

However, there are changes afoot. Recent medical advances have galvanized new attention on the impact of the condition and the possibilities of disease prevention.

So what should be done to address the burden of migraine? 

Those at the forefront of improving health and care are ideally placed to ensure optimal management, including access to new treatments that could make a real difference to patients’ lives.

At the EMHA we will continue to work tirelessly to ensure the views of those living with migraine are heard and barriers to suboptimal care are removed; finding new avenues and partners to help us in this journey. This is our migraine truth.


[1]Steiner TJ et al. Migraine: the seventh disabler. The Journal of Headache and Pain 2013; 14:1.
[2]Diamond S, Bigal ME, Silberstein S, et al. Patterns of diagnosis and acute and preventive treatment for migraine in the United States: results from the American Prevalence and Prevention study. Headache. 2007;47(3):355-363.
[3]Headache Disorders – not respected, not resourced. All-Party Parliamentary Group on Primary Headache Disorders. 2010
[4]The Work Foundation 2018. Society’s headache - the socioeconomic impact of migraine. http://www.theworkfoundation.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/04/Society%E2%80%99s-headache-the-socioeconomic-impact-of-migraine.-Work-Foundation.pdf
[5]GBD 2016 Disease and Injury Incidence and Prevalence Collaborators. Global, regional, and national incidence, prevalence, and years lived with disability for 328 diseases and injuries for 95 countries, 1990-2016. Lancet 2017; 390:1211-59.
[6]Minen MT et al. Migraine and its psychiatric co-morbidities. J Neurol Neurosurg Psychiatry 2016; 87:741–749.
[7] Fuller-Thomson E, Schrumm M, Brennenstuhl S. Migraine and Despair: Factors Associated with Depression and Suicidal Ideation among Canadian Migraineurs in a Population-Based Study. Depress Res Treat. 2013; 2013: doi: 10.1155/2013/401487
[8]Raval AD, Shah A. National trends in direct health care expenditures among US adults with migraine: 2004 to 2013. Journal of Pain. 2017; 57: 60.
[9]Goldberg LD. Am J Manag Care 2005;11[2 suppl]: S62-7.
[10]Migraine Research Foundation. Available at https://migraineresearchfoundation.org/about-migraine/migraine-facts/. Last accessed March 2019
[11]Linde M et al. The cost of headache disorders in Europe: the Eurolight project. European Journal of Neurology. 2012;19(5):703-11.
[12]The World Health Organization, Burden LT. Atlas of headache disorders and resources in the world 2011. Trento: World Heal. Organ; 2011.
[13]Leonardi M. Burden of migraine – what should we say more? Neurol Sci 2015; 36 (Suppl 1):S1–S3.
[14] WHO, Headache disorders, 2016 Available at http://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/headache-disorders.
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