Skip to content
My WebMD Sign In, Sign Up

Migraines & Headaches Health Center

Font Size

Migraines May Ease With Age

In Swedish Study, Most Patients' Attacks Decreased or Disappeared Over 12-Year Follow-Up
By
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

June 8, 2007 -- Good news for most migraine sufferers: With age, you can expect to get fewer, less- painful migraine attacks that don't last as long, a new study from Sweden suggests.

"It does seem that in most people migraine is not a progressive disease," says Carl Dahlof, MD, PhD, a neurologist and medical director and founder of the Gothenburg Migraine Clinic in Gothenberg. He presented his findings this week at the American Headache Society annual meeting in Chicago.

But you may have to be patient. "The average duration is 25 years," Dahlof tells WebMD. "The average age of onset is about age 20."

An estimated 28 million Americans suffer from migraine headaches, according to the American Headache Society.

The 12-Year Study

Dahlof and his colleagues randomly selected 374 migraine patients, including 200 women and 174 men with an average age of 55, following them from 1994 to 2006. At the study's start, they reported having one to six migraines a month. Dahlof's team conducted telephone interviews in 2005 and 2006 to ask the men and women about their current migraine experience.

Over the 12-year period, the migraines of nearly 30% of the patients resolved, usually meaning they disappeared, Dahlof tells WebMD. "The majority, 91% [of these 110], had not had a migraine attack for at least two years," Dahlof says.

Among the remaining 264 who continued to experience the headaches at the 12-year follow-up mark, Dahlof found most had fewer, briefer, and milder attacks.

  • 80% reported a change in attack frequency, with 80% of them having fewer migraines and 20% having more.
  • 55% reported a change in duration of attack, with 66% of them saying their attacks lasted shorter periods of time and 34% saying they lasted longer.
  • 66% said the pain intensity changed, with 83% of them experiencing milder pain and 17% experiencing more severe pain.
  • Only 1.6%, or six participants, progressed to chronic migraine, defined as having migraines more than 15 days a month.

Despite the improvement in symptoms, Dahlof found that many of the patients still lost time from work or family or social events because of the migraines.

Whose Migraines Disappear?

"We don't know for sure," Dahlof says. Hereditary seemed to play a role, at least for the women in the study, with those having a family history more likely to continue to have attacks.

Early management of migraines by a specialist may be the driving force to making them disappear or improve over time, he says. "The risk of progression can be reduced by good management," he believes, although this study did not track the effect of good management. Dahlof credits in particular the improvements in migraine drug therapy in recent years, especially the use of the newer triptan drugs, which are taken at the start of the pain.

Today on WebMD

woman receiving acupuncture
14 alternative methods for migraine relief.
woman with migraine
Get the truth about migraines.
 
headache in the bedroom
Keep headaches from ruining your sex life.
desert heat
12 surprising headache triggers.
 
woman with migraine
Quiz
drinking coffee
Article
 
Migraines Headaches Basics
Article
acupuncture needles in woman's back
Slideshow
 
young woman with migraine
Articles
spraying perfume
Article
 
man with a headache
Article
headache in the bedroom
Article
 

Special Sections