Migraines In Soldiers & Veterans

Nine years after the war in Iraq started, the majority of our brave soldiers are returning home.

The anticipation of coming home may be exciting, but the transition into a regular routine may also take a bit of adjustment for some. Most Americans cope fairly well with the daily stressors of life. However, soldiers who come home with extensive or long term injuries, often find these stressors of daily life even more difficult.¹

According to a one study,² Migraines are more prevalent than expected in servicemen and women who were deployed in Iraq. These Migraines impaired their military duties and three months after they returned home, their Migraines continued to be an issue.

Dr. Brett Theeler, a neurologist at Madigan Army Medical Center in Tacoma, Washington and his fellow researchers distributed a questionnaire to over 3600 soldiers to see if they had symptoms suggestive of Migraines. The questionnaire was sent to a contingent of United States Army servicemen stationed at Ft. Lewis, Washington.

Some of the criteria set in the questionnaire explored whether or not these soldiers had:

  • Migraine pain in the last 12 months
  • Pain that was worse on one side of their head.
  • Pain that was throbbing or pulsating in nature
  • Pain that increased with physical activity
  • Pain severe enough to interrupt daily activities
  • Pain accompanied by nausea or vomiting
  • Increasing pain with exposure to light and/or sound

The questionnaire also asked:

  • How many Migraine days they had
  • How severe Migraines were
  • What the number of impaired duty days was
  • How many sick call days were due to Migraine

Researchers received 2726 questionnaires back and concluded that 19% of soldiers had Migraines and another 17% had probable Migraine. Only 5% of those who responded had already received a diagnosis of Migraine, and women experienced Migraine at an increased rate compared to men (35% versus 17%). These findings follow Migraine trends in the general population fairly closely. Soldiers who reported Migraine during the last three months of active duty suffered headache days three times a month, their pain level was reported to be over six on a scale of 1 – 10 and their attacks lasted over five hours.

Soldiers with Migraine were unable to complete their military duties more than 2 days a week according to the study, and 77% of attacks debilitated them enough that their military function was compromised. In addition, 72% of soldiers with Migraine experienced the inability to comply with their duties one or more days a month, compared to 36% of soldiers with probable Migraine and 21% with other headache disorders. Additional findings showed when soldiers returned home, their Migraines lasted for at least three months. This group of soldiers stated they had between five and seven headache days a month at home, compared with about five headache days during their final months in Iraq. Researchers were surprised at the frequency of attacks found in these soldiers and the level of disability associated with them.

The results from this study indicate that Migraine is a serious concern for servicemen and women both while they are overseas and after they return home. Furthermore, as Dr. Theeler reported, their Migraines, “do not spontaneously resolve in the short-term.” The research also highlights the fact that awareness regarding Migraine in servicemen and women remains low. We hope these findings will increase awareness and improve the quality of care our veterans receive.

References: 1. Morin, Rich. “For Many Injured Veterans, A Lifetime of Consequences.” Pew Social and Demographic Trends. Pew Research Center. November 8, 2011. http://www.pewsocialtrends.org/2011/11/08/for-many-injured-veterans-a-lifetime-of-consequences/1/- 2. Brett J. Theeler, MD; Renee Mercer, LPN; Jay C. Erickson, MD. “Prevalence and Impact of Migraine Among US Army Soldiers Deployed in Support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.” Headache. 2008; 48:876-8. 3. “Migraines common among US soldiers.” Patient Health International. AstraZeneca. June 18, 2008. http://www.patienthealthinternational.com/migraine/news/75773?itemId=3107624-

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The Migraine.com team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

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