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Soldiers in Iraq Have More Migraines

Rate of the Debilitating Headaches More Than Twice That of General Population, Military Study Shows

WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

June 23, 2006 -- U.S. combat soldiers in Iraq are more than twice as likely to suffer migraine headaches as the general American population.

That news was reported by a military doctor at the 48th Annual Scientific Meeting of the American Headache Society in Los Angeles.

While about one in seven Americans suffers migraines or "probable migraines," more than one in three soldiers did so during the last three months of their one-year tour of combat duty, according to the doctor’s study. Just one in 20 of them had been diagnosed before being deployed.

"We're the first to study migraine in deployed soldiers," says Captain Brett Theeler, MD, a neurology resident at Madigan Army Medical Center in Fort Lewis, Wash., who presented the data.

He decided to do the study after noticing soldiers coming into the medical center at Fort Lewis who were complaining of headaches. "We had a hypothesis it would be more common ([among soldiers seeing combat]," he says.

Migraine Rate Surprising

But he didn't expect the high rate of migraine prevalence. "The end results were surprising."

That's partly because, while 95% of the soldiers surveyed were men, migraine in the general population is four times more common among women, Theeler says.

Theeler and his co-researchers surveyed 2,697 soldiers from Fort Lewis, asking them to complete a questionnaire about symptoms during the last three months of their tour of duty in Iraq.

In all, 19% reported headaches that meet the criteria for migraine, while 18% reported symptoms considered "probable migraine," and 11% had headaches of the nonmigraine type.

Just 125 of the soldiers, or 5%, had been diagnosed with migraines before leaving for war.

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