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Costs Of Headaches Widely Underestimated, Study Says With PM-Brain Death, Bjt

April 21, 1989

CHICAGO (AP) _ Disabling headaches force people to miss an average of 1 1/2 days of work each year, according to a new study that also reinforced earlier findings that women were afflicted more often and more seriously than men.

The study published in today’s Journal of the American Medical Association found that most people suffered 10 to 12 headaches each year and about 10 percent of all headaches are migraines, distinguished from the common or ″tension″ headache by severe pain, nausea or vomiting, longer duration and a more acute reaction to sensory stimuli, like light or noise.

Headaches rank seventh among common complaints needing outpatient care, and the National Headache Foundation estimates that direct and indirect costs for medical care and lost workdays are $6 billion to $10 billion annually.

Walter Stewart, one of five authors of the Journal report, said researchers did not try to come up with a dollar figure.

The Journal study involved telephone interviews with 10,169 residents of Washington County, Md., ages 12 to 29.

It was significant both because it focused on a large-scale population at highest risk for the onset of serious headaches and because it gathered data on both long-term problems and headaches in the previous four weeks.

Among its findings:

- Women, who reported suffering headaches more often and more seriously than men, missed an average 1.8 days annually, compared to 1.2 days for men.

- Women said their headaches were of longer duration, more painful and worsened with age. Duration and intensity remained largely constant with men as they aged.

- The most pronounced disablity was reported by women 24 to 29 - the same group in which the least disability was described by males.

- 76 percent of females and 57 percent of males reported a headache in the previous four weeks; 14 percent of females and 6 percent of males reported four or more in that period; for migraines, 7 percent of females and 3 percent of males reported an episode in the four-week period.

- Women said headaches, on average, last 8.2 hours, compared with 5.9 hours for men.

″The trends regarding occurrence and differences between men and women are not new,″ said Stewart, an associate professor of epidemiology at Johns Hopkins School of Hygiene and Public Health. ″And right now, we can’t tell you why.″

Focusing on such facts will enable the public as well as victims to benefit, said Dr. Seymour Diamond, a Chicago-based specialist whose headache clinic is the largest in the United States, and Ray Dion, executive director of the American Association for the Study of the Headache.

″People are being encouraged to seek us out as more and more discussion of the subject appears in both the medical and lay literature ... and this can only accelerate it,″ said Diamond, whose nationally known clinic treats about 30,000 patients annually.

″It used to be rare that we’d see a male patient because being treated for a headache didn’t fit the macho image,″ he added. ″But that has changed gradually and thanks to the information and publicity from this study and others, fewer people will view (headaches) as sign of a psychiatric disease or weakness.″

″People with allergies go to an allergist, but based on the letters and phone calls we get, few people with recurring headaches do anything beyond seeing a general practitioner,″ said Dion, whose San Clemente, Calif.-based organization serves as a clearinghouse for physician specialists.

″Every effort to educate the public is a welcome one,″ he added.

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