How Common is Migraine?

Reviewed by: HU Medical Review Board | Last review date: March 2021

Migraine is one of the world’s most common health conditions and its most common neurological disease. A neurological disease is something that affects the brain or nerves. Roughly 39 million people in the United States and 1 billion people worldwide have migraine. This makes migraine the third most common illness in the world.1

Some doctors think these numbers are low since many people with migraines go undiagnosed.

Who gets migraine?

Migraine happens to some people more than others. People who are at higher risk of having migraine include:1,2

  • Women
  • Native Hawaiians, other Pacific Islanders, American Indians, and Alaska Natives
  • People with a family history of migraines
  • People ages 18 to 44
  • Those with depression, anxiety, and sleep problems
  • People who are unemployed
  • People who are under age 65 on Medicaid
  • Those with income lower than $35,000 a year, especially if they live below the poverty line

How is migraine different in women?

Women face a much higher risk of having migraines than men do. Doctors do not fully understand why this is the case. Many believe migraines can be caused by women’s hormone levels changing during the month.1,2

  • More than 8 out of 10 people with migraines are women
  • One out of 4 women will have migraines at some point in her life
  • Headache is the third-most-common reason women of childbearing age go to the emergency room
  • Women often have more severe, more frequent migraine attacks due to changes in estrogen levels

How is migraine different in children?

People often assume migraines are something only adults have. That may be why migraine is often undiagnosed in children. However, about 1 out of 10 children has migraine, and up to 3 out of 10 teens have migraine.1

Migraine in children may work differently from the way it does in adults. For example, boys are more likely to have migraine attacks before puberty. After puberty, girls are affected more often and have more severe attacks.1

Some research ties infant colic to the risk of developing migraine as a child.1

Other statistics about migraine in children include:1

  • Half of all people with migraine had their first attack before age 12.
  • Children with migraine miss twice as much school as their peers.
  • If 1 parent has migraine, a child has a 50 percent chance of inheriting it. If both parents have migraine, this increases to 75 percent.

Economic costs of migraine

Unless they know someone impacted by migraine, most people do not realize how serious the condition is. In fact, migraine can have a huge impact on a person’s school and work life. This means it also has an impact on the businesses that employ people with migraine. Examples include:1,2

  • Migraine is the sixth-most-disabling disease in the world.
  • Migraine costs the U.S. economy about $36 billion a year in healthcare costs and lost productivity.
  • One billion dollars a year is spent on brain scans for people with headaches.
  • Nine out of 10 people cannot work or perform daily activities during a migraine attack.

Most people in the United States with migraine have 1 to 2 migraine attacks per month. Migraine attacks usually last anywhere from 4 hours to 3 days. If each attack only lasts for 1 day or less, that still adds up to about 12 to 24 sick days a year. A person with 3-day migraines would be sick 36 to 72 days a year. Those with chronic migraine spend 15 days or more per month with a migraine. That is at least 180 days a year. Across the whole economy, 157 million workdays are lost to migraine each year.1

Why does a migraine mean someone cannot go to school or work? Because a migraine is more than head pain. It is extreme head pain paired with nausea, vomiting, dizziness, sensitivity to light and sound, and a host of other physical symptoms.

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