Migraines & Other Headache Disorders: Emergency Department Treatment & Inpatient Admissions

According to a Statistical Brief recently issued by the federal Agency for Healthcare Quality and Research’s Healthcare Cost and Utilization Project, more than 3 million Americans visit the emergency department every year for treatment of headache disorders at a cost of approximately $408 million a year.

The agency collected data from all short term, non-federal hospitals in the United States to find out who was seeking treatment for headaches in hospitals and why.

About 35% of patients seeking treatment in the hospital setting were migraine sufferers. Most of the rest of the 3 million patients were seeking treatment for tension type headache, a variety of headache disorder that about 80% of people will deal with at some point in their lives. Patients seeking treatment for migraine and other headache disorders accounted for 2.4% of all annual emergency room visits.

Women are not only more likely to seek treatment in the emergency department for headaches and migraines, they are also more likely than men to be hospitalized for inpatient treatment of headaches and migraines. Nearly three out of four emergency department visits and inpatient admissions were for women. Since we already know more women than men live with migraine disease, these results aren’t especially surprising.

People in the 18 to 44 age group were most likely of all age groups to seek treatment for headache disorders in the emergency department setting. People in the 18 to 44 and 45 to 64 age groups were vastly more likely to be hospitalized for inpatient stays related to headache disorders than other age groups.

Perhaps somewhat surprisingly, there were differences in the number of people seeking treatment in the hospital setting for headache disorders based on geographical region. People in the Northeast were most likely to seek treatment for headaches and migraines in the emergency department, while people in the West were least likely. People in the South and Midwest ranked somewhere in the middle.

The data also showed a difference in emergency department utilization for headache disorders among urban and rural Americans. Emergency department visits were more frequent in rural areas and in low income areas. People in the lowest income communities were more than twice as likely to visit the emergency department as people in the wealthiest communities. This is likely attributable to the fact that rural and low income patients have vastly fewer treatment options than urban and wealthy patients. There was no difference between urban and rural dwellers in inpatient treatment for migraines and headaches, however.

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