National Headache Day, a pathology that affects 50% of the world’s adult population

Headache is described as any type of headache. According to data from the Hospital Clínic de Barcelona and the World Health Organization, headache affects approximately 50% of the adult population worldwide. Although there are regional variations, it is a problem that affects people of all ages, races and geographical areas. In fact, the World Health Organization, in the Global Burden of Disease Study 2015, concluded that headaches are the sixth leading cause of disability in the world, with migraine (primary type of headache, more intense than tension headache) being the third leading cause of disability in people under 50 years of age, and the seventh in people over 50 years of age. This places headache behind stroke and ahead of other neurological diseases such as meningitis, dementia, multiple sclerosis or Parkinson’s disease.

This Friday, April 19, is National Headache Day, with the aim of raising awareness of one of the most common ailments in the population and the nervous system. To do so, we have the collaboration of Dr. Neus Fabregat, a neurologist specializing in headaches and collaborator of Neurosurgery Barcelona, a member center of Top Doctors.

How many people in Spain suffer from headache and migraine?

Headache is one of the most common ailments of the nervous system. As mentioned above, it affects 50% of the adult population worldwide. However, migraine is one of the most common types of primary headache, with more intense symptoms than in tension headache. In fact, about 4.5 million people suffer from migraine in Spain.

Does it affect some ages more than others?

Headache can affect people of all ages, although it is more common in young people. Episodic migraine affects, above all, patients between 20-30 years of age. Chronic migraine peaks in intensity a decade later, at the age of 40.

What factors can influence the onset of headaches?

In 80% of patients with migraine we can identify a family history, so genetics plays an important role. Patients have an increased sensitivity to both external and internal stimuli, which can act as triggers for attacks.

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What symptoms are characteristic of a headache and a migraine?

Headaches, especially tension headaches, usually present with a kind of pressure band around the head, sometimes radiating to or from the neck. In contrast, in cluster headache there are several recurrent, short but very painful episodes. Usually the pain is concentrated in one eye, which weeps and reddens. It is usually accompanied, in addition, by rhinorrhea or obstruction of the nose on the affected side of the head.

In case of migraine there is a pain phase, which may be accompanied by:

  • Photophobia
  • Phonophobia
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Worsening with movement

20% of patients present with aura before this phase, which is usually visual, sensory or language. Often patients present, previously and subsequently, two phases, known as prodrome or postdrome, where fatigue, concentration problems, anorexia or increased appetite and, in the prodrome, yawning appear. The duration of the attacks will help us to distinguish it from other types of headache.

Are there different types of headache?

There are primary headaches, in which headache is part of the diagnostic criteria of the disease. Within primary headaches there are several types, being migraine and trigeminoautonomic migraine the most frequent reason for the neurologist. There are also headaches secondary to other diseases, where headache is a symptom. Although secondary headaches are a minority, it is important to be aware of them, as they may be the symptom of a serious pathology.

How should a headache be treated?

On the one hand, it is necessary to lead a correct lifestyle and, on the other hand, the appropriate drugs prescribed by the physician should be used during the crisis. If they are frequent or intense, preventive treatment (oral, botulinum toxin infiltrations, anesthetic blocks, etc.) should be considered.

Can the patient avoid them “by himself”?

Headache and migraine require a regular and orderly life, being organized in sleeping and eating, avoiding stress and different stimuli. It is of great help, both to know what influences the headache and what it is advisable to avoid, that the patient makes a calendar where he/she reflects the headache days and the circumstances and nuances that accompany it.