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Objective.— To describe the magnitude and distribution of the public health problem posed by migraine in the United States by examining migraine prevalence, attack frequency, and attack-related disability by gender, age, race, household income, geographic region, and urban vs rural residence.

Design.— In 1989, a self-administered questionnaire was sent to a sample of 15,000 households. A designated member of each household initially responded to the questionnaire. Each household member with severe headache was asked to respond to detailed questions about symptoms, frequency, and severity of headaches.

Setting.— A sample of households selected from a panel to be representative of the US population in terms of age, gender, household size, and geographic area.

Participants.— After a single mailing, 20,468 subjects (63.4% response rate) between 12 and 80 Years of age responded to the survey. Respondents and nonrespondents did not differ by gender, household income, region of the country, or urban vs rural status. Whites and the elderly were more likely to respond. Migraine headache cases were identified on the basis of reported symptoms using established diagnostic criteria.

Results.— In total, 17.6% of females and 5.7% of males were found to have 1 or more migraine headaches per year. The prevalence of migraine varied considerably by age and was highest in both men and women between the ages of 35 to 45 years. Migraine prevalence was strongly associated with household income; prevalence in the lowest-income group (less than $10,000) was more than 60% higher than in the 2 highest-income groups (greater than or equal to $30,000). The proportion of migraine sufferers who experienced moderate to severe disability was not related to gender, age, income, urban vs rural residence, or region of the country. In contrast, the frequency of headaches was lower in higher-income groups. Attack frequency was inversely related to disability.

Conclusions.— A projection to the US population suggests that 8.7 million females and 2.6 million males suffer from migraine headache with moderate to severe disability. Of these, 3.4 million females and 1.1 million males experience 1 or more attacks per month. Females between ages 30 and 49 years from lower-income households are at especially high risk of having migraines and are more likely than other groups to use emergency care services for their acute condition.