2001 WHO Report Ranks Migraine Among Top 20 Causes of Disability

28 February 2002
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The WHO report defines the "burden" of migraine to include the economic and emotional difficulties that a family experiences as a result of migraine, as well as the lost opportunities - the adjustments and compromises that prevent other family members from achieving their full potential in work, social relationships and leisure (Gallagher & Mechanic 1996)3. These human aspects of migraine are more difficult to assess and quantify, the report says, but are nevertheless vital to fully understanding the implications of the disorder.

The Global Burden of Disease (GBD) is an analysis of the onset of disorders and the disability caused by them. Using the GBD methodology, the report identifies six neuropsychiatric disorders2 among the top 20 causes of disability in the world: unipolar depressive disorders, alcohol use disorders, schizophrenia, bipolar affective disorder, Alzheimer's and other dementias, and migraine. The final results of the study will be published in 2002.

The report places migraine among all leading causes of disability in the world. Migraine is estimated to account for 2.0% years of life lost due to a disability in women of all ages. In both sexes of all ages, migraine is responsible for 1.4% of total years of life lost due to a disability (see tables below). Years of life lost to a disability is defined as years of "healthy" life lost in states of less than full health.

The WHO's recognition of migraine as a major global disorder, therefore, is a major step toward relieving the burden of headache around the world. The next step will be to develop global and regional education programmes that will increase public awareness of headache disorders, and to increase research for the development of effective headache therapies.

Leading causes of years of life lost due to a disability:

Females All Ages % Total
1 Unipolar depressive disorders 14
2 Iron-deficiency anaemia 4.9
3 Hearing loss, adult onset 4.2
4 Osteoarthritis 3.5
5 Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease 2.9
6 Schizophrenia 2.7
7 Bipolar affective disorder 2.4
8 Falls 2.3
9 Alzheimer's and other dementias 2.2
10 Obstructed labour 2.1
11 Cataracts 2.0
12 Migraine 2.0
13 Congenital abnormalities 1.9
14 Asthma 1.8
15 Perinatal conditions 1.8
16 Chlamydia 1.8
17 Cerebrovascular disease 1.8
18 Protein-energy malnutrition 1.6
19 Abortion 1.6
20 Panic disorder 1.6

Both Sexes All Ages % Total
1 Unipolar depressive disorders 11.9
2 Hearing loss, adult onset 4.6
3 Iron-deficiency anaemia 4.5
4 Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease 3.3
5 .Alcohol use disorders 3.1
6 Osteoarthritis 3.0
7 Schizophrenia 2.8
8 Falls 2.8
9 Bipolar affective disorder 2.5
10 Asthma 2.1
11 Congenital abnormalities 2.1
12 Perinatal conditions 2.0
13 Alzheimer's and other dementias 2.0
14 Cataracts 1.9
15 Road traffic accidents 1.8
16 Protein-energy malnutrition 1.7
17 Cerebrovascular disease 1.7
18 HIV/AIDS 1.5
19 Migraine 1.4
20 Diabetes mellitus 1.4

1 The World Health Report: 2001: Mental Health: New Understanding, New Hope. To view the report in full, please visit the WHO Website
2 Neuropsychiatric disorders include unipolar major depression, bipolar affective disorder, psychoses, epilepsy, alcohol dependence, Alzheimer's and other dementias, Parkinson's disease. Multiple sclerosis, drug dependence, post-traumatic stress disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorders, panic disorder, migraine and sleep disorders.
3 Gallagher SK, Mechanic D (1996). Living with the mentally ill: effects on the health and functioning of other members. Social Science and Medicine, 42(12): 1691-1701.