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 2008, 13.5 percent of adults reported experiencing a severe headache or migraine in the past 3 months (data not shown). Severe headaches and migraines were more than twice as common among women as men (18.4 versus 8.2 percent, respectively). The proportion of women with severe headaches and migraines is highest among the younger age groups and decreases with age. Among women, only 5.7 percent of those aged 65 years and older reported severe headaches or migraines in the past 3 months, compared to more than 23 percent of women aged 18–24 and 25–44 years.

The percentage of women experiencing severe headaches and migraines also varies by race and ethnicity. Non-Hispanic women of multiple races and non-Hispanic American Indian/Alaska Native women were most likely to report a severe headache or migraine in the past 3 months (29.0 and 25.6 percent, respectively). Non-Hispanic Asian and non-Hispanic Black women were less likely than women of other races and ethnicities to report a severe headache or migraine (11.0 and 16.7 percent, respectively).

The proportion of women with severe headaches or migraines generally decreases as income increases. Women with household incomes below 100 percent of poverty were most likely to have had a severe headache or migraine (24.9 percent), followed by women with incomes of 100–199 percent of poverty (20.0 percent). In comparison, 16.7 percent of women with incomes of 200 percent or more of poverty had experienced severe headaches or migraines in the past 3 months (data not shown).

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