St. Paul, Minn. – While more than 28 million U.S. adults (13 percent of the total) suffer from migraine headaches, less than one-half are seeking medical treatment and taking advantage of the latest in prescription medications, according to a study published in the March 26 issue of Neurology, the scientific journal of the American Academy of Neurology.
This study shows that migraine prevalence in the United States has remained stable over the past 10 years. And while the rate of medical consultation for migraine has increased significantly, from 16 percent in 1989 to 48 percent currently, many millions of migraine sufferers continue to treat their pain with over-the-counter medications, such as acetaminophen, ibuprofen, and pain medications containing caffeine (such as Excedrin or Anacin).
"Over-the-counter medications are an appropriate option for many migraine suffers," says study author Richard Lipton, MD, of Albert Einstein College of Medicine, New York. "But given the advances in migraine treatment and the self-reported patient satisfaction with prescription medication, many migraine sufferers would suffer less with appropriate medical attention."
In this population-based study, 4,376 migraine sufferers were interviewed by phone in Philadelphia County, Pennsylvania, a demographically diverse region that mirrors the U.S. population. Consistent with previous studies, Lipton''''s colleagues found 17.2 percent of women and 6 percent of men met International Headache Society criteria for migraine. The median migraine duration (unmedicated) was 24 hours, but women had on average longer attacks, with a higher percentage experiencing attacks of 48 hours or more.
Of those who were employed or students, nearly two-thirds of migraine sufferers reported missing days within the previous year; more than one-third reported missing days within the previous three months; and nearly half reported missing family or social activities within the previous three months. The prevalence of migraine varied by age, rising through early adult life, and peaking in middle life (age 30 to 50), with a sharp decline after age 50.
The likelihood of a clinical diagnosis of migraine among sufferers has increased to 73 percent, resulting in more effective treatment for those who have sought medical relief from their headache pain. This study found nearly half of all sufferers treated their pain with over-the-counter (OTC) medications alone. One-quarter treated pain with prescription medications only, and one-quarter used a combination of OTC and prescription medications. The prescription-only group was more likely to report complete headache relief within two hours (62 percent) than the group that treated with OTC medications to the exclusion of prescription drugs (31 percent).
The study shows that migraine is common and often temporarily disabling. Despite a decade of progress, migraine remains underdiagnosed and undertreated. Individuals who experience high levels of pain or significant limitations in their activities despite over-the-counter treatment should seek medical care.
The American Academy of Neurology, an association of more than 19,000 neurologists and neuroscience professionals, is dedicated to improving patient care through education and research. A neurologist is a doctor with specialized training in diagnosing, treating and managing disorders of the brain and nervous system such as stroke, Alzheimer's disease, epilepsy, Parkinson's disease, autism and multiple sclerosis.
For more information about the American Academy of Neurology, visit www.aan.com.
- end -