Migraines May Ease With Age
In Swedish Study, Most Patients' Attacks Decreased or Disappeared Over 12-Year Follow-Up
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
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
- 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
- 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
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.