Migraines are often thought of as a woman’s issue, and there’s some basis for this. Migraines are three times more common in women than in men, with 17 % of women suffering from migraines as compared with 6% of men. Based on analysis of surveys of migraine sufferers from data on an app called Migraine Buddy, women tend to have more severe pain, and their headaches last longer than do men’s. Women in this group averaged 7 days of headaches per month, and men averaged 6 days of headache per month.
Women’s migraine pain may be more intense as well. On the pain scale often used in monitoring migraines, which ranges from 1-10 with 1 being the mildest and 10 being the most severe, women averaged a 6 and men a 5 on these ratings.
Why Do Migraines Affect Women More Than Men?
There are various explanations for the differences in reported migraine severity and frequency between men and women. Some believe women have a lower pain threshold or that the stigma of having headaches prevents men from reporting their pain as much. The difference in pain levels may be explained by the role of hormones, especially estrogen, in migraine. Estrogen fluctuations are a known migraine trigger, and, since estrogen is a female sex hormone, this may explain why migraines are more of a disorder of women.
Migraine Triggers in Men vs Women
The triggers that affect men and women can be different. Obviously, only women are at risk for migraines due to changes in estrogen that occur throughout a woman’s life. Women are also much more likely to have changes in weather (barometric changes) trigger their headaches. Men are more likely to report physical exertion and alcohol as a trigger for their migraines. While women are more likely to complain of nausea with their migraines, men are more often sensitive to light during a migraine. Interestingly, the data suggests that men are more likely to attribute depression to their migraines.
Men Suffer From Migraines Too
Despite the fact that women are overall more impacted by migraines, many men do experience them. And there are other headache types, like cluster headaches, that are much more common in men. Cluster headaches are a type of headache that is different from migraine headaches in the symptoms experienced and in the way they are treated.
Men are less likely to seek medical care for their migraines and less likely to take medications to treat them. This may be because they don’t see themselves reflected in conversations about migraine — most of the leading migraine advocates are women, and even on online migraine support groups the majority of the posts are from women. Alternatively, men may hold back from seeking medical care due to a belief that men should be tough and not admit to pain.
Men suffering from migraine and other types of headaches should know that help is available. Medical treatment and lifestyle modifications can significantly reduce the frequency and severity of headaches, and anybody who suffers from pain and other headache symptoms should seek treatment to improve their health and quality of life.
About the Author
Charisse Litchman MD, FAHS is a neurologist, headache specialist, and medical advisor to Nurx. She received her undergraduate degree at Wesleyan University and her medical degree at Yale School of Medicine. After completing her internship at Yale New Haven Hospital, she completed her neurology residency at Cornell-New York Hospital. She began a solo private practice in general neurology and became board certified in headache medicine in 2008. She left her private practice in 2018 to become faculty at Yale where she is currently Assistant Professor of Clinical Neurology. Charisse has published articles in headaches and multiple sclerosis and edited the first textbook on a rare soft tissue tumor. She has earned a certificate in Medical Editing and Writing from the University of Chicago. Charisse has three children and lives in Connecticut with her husband Mark and her two dogs.
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