Migraines affect Canadians' sleep, driving and work

Migraines have been diagnosed in about eight per cent of Canadians, a quarter or more of whom say the severe headaches impact day-to-day life such as getting a good night’s sleep or driving, Statistics Canada says.

Three-quarters of 'migraineurs' in the StatsCan analysis had trouble getting a good night's sleep

Migraines have been diagnosed in about eight per cent of Canadians, a quarter or more of whom say the severe headaches impact day-to-day life such as getting a good night’s sleep or driving, Statistics Canada says.

The federal agency on Wednesday released its first report on the prevalence of migraine, saying an estimated 2.7 million Canadians, or 8.3 per cent, reported they had been diagnosed with the severe headaches in 2010-2011.

  • 2.7 million Canadians said they had been diagnosed with migraines.
  • 26 per cent of them said migraines prevented their usual activities.
  • 26 per cent said they felt left out.
  • 53 per cent said migraines prevented them from driving.
  • 76 per cent said it affected their ability to get a good night's sleep.

Chronic migraines are frequent, severe, pulsating headaches accompanied by nausea, vomiting, and sensitivity to light and sound.

"I think the key finding that was quite interesting was the impact of migraine," said report author Pamela Ramage-Morin, a senior analyst in Ottawa.

"For three-quarters to say that it had an impact on their getting a good night sleep, over half said it prevented them from driving on some occasions, even people feeling left out of things because of their condition. There's some social isolation that could be occurring. It may be limiting on people's education and employment opportunities. That can have a long-term effect."

The sleep findings are important given lack of sleep can impact other aspects of life, Ramage-Morin said, noting how the effects can extend beyond the individual to the larger community.

For both men and women surveyed, migraines were most common at ages 30 to 49, a group represents 12 per cent of the population and the prime working years.

Ramage-Morin suggested employers, health-care workers and policymakers could use the findings to understand that  a large proportion of the population is affected by migraines. Workplace policies could be used to help support people with the condition.

On average, migraines were diagnosed at age 26, about four years after symptoms were first experienced.

The majority in the study, 70 per cent, of people with migraines, known as migraineurs, were employed at the time. Of these, one-third said they face limitations in job opportunities. Previous international studies suggest migraines are associated with lost productivity on the job.

Almost two-thirds of people diagnosed with migraines (63 per cent) were classified with minimal or mild depression, and 20 per cent had moderate to severe depression. It’s known that migraines increase the risk of depression and depression increases the risk of the headaches.

Forty-two per cent of people with migraines said they had taken prescription medications for the condition in the previous three months. Among those not taking prescription drugs, the most frequent reasons were that they did not need it, they hadn’t been prescribed or they did not want them.

About 56 per cent of migraineurs said they had paid out of pocket for medications in the previous year for which they wouldn’t be reimbursed.

The report was based on the 2010 and 2011 data from the Canadian Community Health Surveys, and the 2011 Survey of Living with Neurological Conditions in Canada.

With files from CBC's Amina Zafar


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