Headaches: The Invisible Epidemic
Half of all adults have at least one headache a year. Many people, however, experience headaches on a weekly or daily basis, and with a degree of severity that interferes with work and sabotages social plans.
While headaches can be a sign of issues such as high blood pressure, primary headaches are a disorder in and of themselves. Tension headaches, the most common type, affect 70 per cent of us; sufferers complain of a sensation of tightness. Migraines, which are experienced by one in 10 Canadians, are the most likely to send us to a doctor, since the symptoms can be severe. Other variants include cluster headaches, which are brief but excruciating and can flare up several times a day.
The global impact of primary headaches is significant – they may be responsible for one-fifth of missed work worldwide. “It’s resulting in a lot of sick days and ER visits,” says neurologist Elizabeth Leroux, director of the University of Montreal Health Centre’s migraine clinic. In a 2013 study on the global burden of disease conducted by a consortium of international researchers, headache disorders were listed as having the third-highest impact on quality of life out of all medical conditions.
Women are three times as likely as men to have migraines. That’s partly due to hormonal fluctuations, but also because of sex-based structural and functional differences in the brain. A 2010 survey by Headache Network Canada found that 73 per cent of women with migraines experienced a loss of control over their lives; three-quarters of respondents reported feeling a lack of support from others.