U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Health Resources and Services Administration

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Severe Headaches and Migraines

Severe headaches of any kind can be debilitating. Symptoms of severe headache include intense pain, usually on both sides of the head. Migraine, in addition to severe pain on only one side of the head, may be accompanied by neurological symptoms such as distorted vision, nausea, vomiting, and sensitivity to light or sound. In 2007, 12.3 percent of adults reported experiencing a severe headache or migraine in the past 3 months (data not shown). Severe headaches and migraines are more than twice as common among women as men (16.8 versus 7.4 percent, respectively). For both sexes, the rate of severe headaches and migraines is highest among those aged 25–44 years and decreases with age. Among women aged 65 years and older, only 5.9 percent reported severe headaches or migraines in the past 3 months, compared to 22.4 percent of women aged 25–44 years.

The percentage of women experiencing severe headaches and migraines decreases as household income increases. In 2007, 24.1 percent of women with household incomes below 100 percent of poverty reported experiencing a severe headache or migraine in the past 3 months, compared to 17.9 percent of women with household incomes of 200–399 percent of poverty and 14.8 percent of women with incomes of 400 percent or more of poverty.

The percentage of women reporting severe headaches or migraines varied by race and ethnicity: 17.9 percent of Hispanic women reported experiencing a severe headache or migraine in the past 3 months, compared to 16.8 percent of non-Hispanic White and 15.7 percent of non-Hispanic Black women. Non-Hispanic Asian women were least likely to report a severe headache or migraine (13.3 percent). Nearly 30 percent of non-Hispanic women of other races reported experiencing a severe headache or migraine (data not shown).

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