Migraine affects three times as many women as men
Primary headaches—headaches that do not have a secondary underlying cause—affect almost one third of women in their child-bearing years. Migraine headaches affect women three times more frequently than men. We suspect this may be the case because of the influence of hormones on the underlying genetic tendency toward migraine. In fact, it has been recently discovered that there is a migraine gene that is on the X chromosome. (It is not yet known how many migraine sufferers possess this gene.)
Many myths about women and headaches persist in our culture, but it's not fair to treat women with headache unfairly. Find out the truth about these common headache and migraine myths.
In addition to the way that hormones may affect your genetics to cause migraine, it's also improtant to understand how a woman's hormonal cycles affect headaches themselves. Sixty per cent of women with migraine headaches report that their worst headache each month occurs at the time of their menstrual cycle. Some women only experience menstrually related migraine headaches, and not at other times.
Migraines tend to affect women in a different fashion than men. Women report headaches that last longer and are associated with more accompanying symptoms. Their headaches tend to be more severe, more likely to require bedrest, and more likely to cause inability to attend work or social engagements.
According to the World Health Organization, migraine is the twelfth highest cause of disability in women worldwide.
Despite the heavy toll migraine takes on women, many have never seen a doctor about their headaches. A Canadian survey found that only 38% of women with migraine had sought medical care for their headaches. Although 40% of migraine sufferers experience weekly episodes, many self-treat rather than seek medical care. Historically, women have often been treated as if they were hysterical, crazy, up-tight, frigid, or in some other way blamed for having migraines. This is not the case. Migraine is a biochemical disorder of the brain – to understand it better, read our article on Pathophysiology.
If your doctor does not seem to understand migraine or your headaches, or treats you like it is in any way your fault, find another doctor. Both the National Headache Foundation and the American Headache Society (US), or Help for Headaches if you are in Canada, can direct you to a physician with an interest in headache. You can find information for all these organizations on our Resources page.
Updated July 1, 2012