Background: Migraine headaches are often disabling but usually responsive to treatment. Nonetheless, many people with migraine never consult a doctor for headaches. In a sample of the US population, we sought to determine the proportion of active migraineurs who ever consulted a doctor for headache and to identify the headache characteristics and sociodemographic factors associated with consulting.
Method: A mailed questionnaire survey was sent to 15,000 US households, selected from a panel to be representative of the US population. Of 20,468 eligible respondents ranging in age from 12 to 80 years, 2479 met a case definition for migraine. We mailed a second questionnaire to all migraineurs identified on the first survey and achieved a 69.4% response rate. The second survey assessed headache characteristics, patterns of medical care use, medication use, and method of payment for health care.
Results: Sixty-eight percent of female and 57% of male migraineurs reported having ever consulted a doctor for headache. Consultation was more likely with increasing age and in women who ever married. In females, several headache characteristics including pain intensity, number of migraine symptoms, attack duration, and disability were associated with consultation. Of those who never consult, 61% report severe or very severe pain and 67% report severe disability or the need for bed rest with their headaches.
Conclusion: The results of this survey indicate that a significant proportion of migraine sufferers never consult doctors for their headaches. Given that a large proportion of persons who never consult report high levels of pain and disability, these data suggest that there are opportunities to appropriately increase health care utilization for migraine. Given that 40% of migraineurs who have ever consulted do not report a physician diagnosis of migraine, there is a need to improve headache diagnosis and/or doctor-patient communication about migraine.