The present review of epidemiologic studies on migraine and headache in Europe is part of a larger initiative by the European Brain Council to estimate the costs incurred because of brain disorders. Summarizing the data on 1-year prevalence, the proportion of adults in Europe reporting headache was 51%, migraine 14%, and 'chronic headache' (i.e. > or =15 days/month or 'daily') 4%. Generally, migraine, and to a lesser degree headache, are most prevalent during the most productive years of adulthood, from age 20 to 50 years. Several European studies document the negative influence of headache disorders on the quality of life, and health-economic studies indicate that 15% of adults were absent from work during the last year because of headache. Very few studies have been performed in Eastern Europe, and there are also surprisingly little data on tension-type headache from any country. Although the methodology and the quality of the published studies vary considerably, making direct comparisons between different countries difficult, the present review clearly demonstrates that headache disorders are extremely prevalent and have a vast impact on public health. The data collected should be used as arguments to increase resources to headache research and care for headache patients all over the continent.