Research that has come out of Norway has suggested that the number of people suffering for migraines over the past decade has increased. The research found that in the past ten years the number of people in Norway who have said they suffer from the condition has increased by one percent.
You may not think that this is much of an increase but consider that this is nearly 50,000 more people than this time ten years ago. If the figure were true for the whole of Europe, this would mean an extra five million migraine sufferers. The researchers are unsure of the cause of this increase.
The study involved people who were aged between 20 and 50 and compared data that had been collected in the late nineties with information that had been late last decade. The study that has discovered this trend is part of one of the largest health studies in the world. The study is known as HUNT 2 and has involved over 75,000 people.
The findings showed that while 12 per cent of the population met the medical criteria for having migraine headaches in the HUNT 2 survey, 13 per cent of the HUNT 3 respondents 11 years later met the medical criteria for having migraines.
While that 1 per cent increase “may not sound dramatic, in the context of the population as a whole, that represents an increase of roughly 45 000 Norwegians,” says Professor Knut Hagen, one of the NTNU researchers working with the data. “Those are real numbers and give some cause for concern. The increase has also occurred over a relatively short period of time.”
The increase is most marked in the age group 20-50 years, but is also found in older age groups. Hagen does not have data for people younger than 20.
The most puzzling aspect of the finding is that it has no obvious scientific explanation, Hagen says. Diagnostic criteria were the same in the 1990s as they are today, and the level of self-reported migraine did not increase. The number of migraines caused by medicines has also not increased between the HUNT 2 and HUNT 3 databases, he said.
“This last finding is really good news because the use of pain relievers has risen sharply since these drugs have been available for sale in stores without a prescription,” says Hagen.
A more likely explanation for the increase in migraines is a change in the external environment, Hagen says.
“From experience we know that visual impacts, such as flickering screens, can trigger migraines. Measurements of the neurophysiological activity in the brain with EEG shows that migraine patients are more susceptible to light stimulation. It is tempting to believe that the increase in migraines is due to the increase in these kinds of stimuli during the 11 years between the two HUNT surveys,” Hagen says. “But this is speculation that we have no scientific evidence for.”
But Hagen was clear that one possible candidate — radiation from mobile devices — was not a cause of the increase, based on the results of a previous NTNU study, which found no evidence that radiation from mobile phones contributed to an increase in headaches.