04 May 2011

Headaches have 'huge' costs

Almost half of all adults worldwide have headache disorders such as migraines and tension headaches, and the problem has huge economic and societal costs.


Almost half of all adults worldwide have headache disorders such as migraines and tension headaches, and the problem has huge economic and societal costs, the World Health Organisation said.

Yet headaches are widely under-recognised, underdiagnosed and undertreated, and the scant knowledge about them and the burdens they impose must be improved, the WHO said.

Publishing its first global atlas on headaches, the Geneva-based UN health body said it found that 47% of all adults have a headache disorder and "the financial costs to society through lost productivity are enormous".

In the EU alone, 190 million days are lost from work every year because of migraine, it said.

"Headache and migraine disorders are greatly underrated and underreported by health systems and receive too little attention," Dr Shekhar Saxena, the WHO's director of mental health and substance abuse disorders, said in an e-mailed statement about the report.

"Headaches can be debilitating for many people, rendering them unable to work. During migraine attacks, 90% of people postpone household chores, almost three-quarters have limited ability to work and half of them miss work entirely."

Annual cost

Migraine affects around one in six women and one in 12 men, and has been estimated to be the most expensive brain disorder to society in the EU and the US.

The WHO report found that most importantly, headache disorders are very disabling: Worldwide, migraine alone is the cause of 1.3% of all disability due to illness, it said, and experts estimate that taken together, all headache disorders account for double this burden.

Migraine alone is the cause of an estimated 400,000 lost days from work or school every year per million of the population in developed countries, and in the EU, the total annual cost of all headache has recently been estimated at €155bn ($229bn).

"Governments must take the issue more seriously, train health personnel in headache disorder diagnosis and treatment, and ensure appropriate medication is available and used properly," Saxena said.

An international scientific team said in 2010 it had for the first time identified a genetic risk factor linked with common migraines - a finding that could open the way for new treatments to prevent migraine attacks. - (Reuters, April 2011)

Read more:
What causes headaches?


Read Health24’s Comments Policy

Comment on this story
Comments have been closed for this article.

Ask the Expert

Headache expert

Dr Elliot Shevel is a South African migraine surgery pioneer and the founder and medical director of The Headache Clinic in Johannesburg, Durban and Cape Town, South Africa. The Headache Clinic is a multidisciplinary practice dedicated to the diagnosis and treatment of Primary Headaches and Migraines. Dr Shevel is also the main author of all scientific publications generated by his team. He recently won a high level science debate in which he was able to prove that the current migraine diagnosis and classification is not based on data. Tertiary Education - Dr Shevel holds both Dental and Medical degrees, and practises as a specialist Maxillo-facial and Oral Surgeon. Follow the Headache Clinic on Twitter@HeadacheClinic.

Still have a question?

Get free advice from our panel of experts

The information provided does not constitute a diagnosis of your condition. You should consult a medical practitioner or other appropriate health care professional for a physical exmanication, diagnosis and formal advice. Health24 and the expert accept no responsibility or liability for any damage or personal harm you may suffer resulting from making use of this content.

* You must accept our condition

Forum Rules