What is a migraine?

Migraine is a neurological disorder that can be very distressing and disabling. Typically it is a one-sided throbbing or pulsating headache that is at least moderately intense and can be aggravated by physical activity. It is very often associated with nausea and vomiting, as well as increased sensitivity to light, sound and even some types of smell.

In contrast, tension headache, another headache type, is usually felt on both sides of the head. It is a pressing or tightening sensation rather than a throbbing headache and is not made worse by activity or accompanied by nausea.

Read our article on migraine – a common and distressing disorder for more detailed information.

Migraine Fact Sheet

Who experiences migraine?

About 20% of the population suffers from migraine at some stage in their lives. Migraine often first appears in childhood, adolescence or early adulthood, but affects the greatest number of people between 35 and 45 years of age. Migraine is less common in children (about 2-5%) and affects girls and boys about equally. However, in adolescents and adults the disease disproportionately affects women (22% vs 10% lifetime prevalence).

In women, migraine frequency and severity are affected by hormones and, as a result, often change during adolescence, pregnancy and menopause. Beginning around menarche (the first menstrual cycle), its prevalence increases during reproductive years and then decreases around menopause. In women the symptoms of migraine tend also to be more severe and longer lasting. Women often experience an improvement in migraine during pregnancy, however, unfortunately it typically reappears following birth. After about 70 years of age the prevalence of migraine decreases to that of the middle teen years. At this stage there are less women suffering from migraine, but those who are may experience them more frequently, though accompanying symptoms such as nausea and photophobia are usually less pronounced.

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