CDC: Women Twice As Likely to Get Severe Headaches, Migraines

April 25, 2014 - 4:00 PM

migraine headache

Woman suffering from migraine. (AP photo)

(CNSNews.com) - Women are twice as likely as men to suffer from migraines and severe headaches lasting a day or longer regardless of their age or race, according to the latest statistics released by the 2012 National Health Interview Survey (NHIS).

18.9 percent of women surveyed reported experiencing a severe headache or migraine within the past three months. The same was true of only 9 percent of men.

The NHIS--a “household, multistage probability sample survey conducted annually by interviewers of the U.S. Census Bureau for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Health Statistics”--collected data on 34,525 adults for the 2012 survey.

headaches, age and gender

The NHIS survey also revealed that married people reported fewer migraines/severe headaches than those who were divorced, widowed, never married or living with a partner.

headache, marital satus

Dr. Seymour Diamond, executive chairman of the National Headache Foundation, told CNSNews.com that the higher prevalence of headaches in women is a widely known medical fact.

He explained two reasons for this: “There is a hereditary factor and one of those genes is passed more frequently to women. Women also have a larger trigger because their hormone fluctuations are much greater because of their [menstrual] cycles.”

This large discrepancy in the percentages of male and females who suffer from  migraine/severe headache is borne out historically.

Another CDC study showing data on migraine/severe headache sufferers in 1997, 2010, and 2012 reveals that 101 to 116 percent more women reported severe headaches and migraines than men.

Headaches by race, gender

And a recent article compiled statistics from the NHIS report and other studies that visually demonstrate the “headache gap” between male and female sufferers. (See Migraine Prevalance.pdf)

The Mayo Clinic’s website says that women are three times more likely than men to have migraines. While the causes of migraines are still uncertain, the Mayo Clinic speculates that genetic and environmental factors may play a role.

It also lists common migraine triggers, which include hormonal changes in women, certain foods such as aged cheeses and processed food, and various food additives.

The NHIS study also found that the higher the income of the respondents, the less likely they were to suffer from migraines or severe headaches. Only 10.7 percent of those who made $100,000 or more complained of severe headache/migraine problems, compared to 17.8 percebt of those who made less than $35,000.

headaches by income

And although migraine and severe headache sufferers were pretty evenly distributed throughout the country, the survey found that a higher percentage of sufferers live in rural rather than urban areas.