Americans know what it is. And a new public opinion poll shows they know what to do about it. Yet, most Americans’ behavior toward it is not in line with their knowledge — and they are suffering needlessly as a result.

It” is migraine – a legitimate biological disease that currently affects approximately 28 million Americans. According to the nationwide public opinion poll, conducted for the National Headache Foundation (NHF) and underwritten by GlaxoSmithKline, 62 percent of Americans believe migraine is a significant medical condition that can be disabling. Eighty-two percent of Americans also believe there are effective treatments for migraine that can relieve pain and improve the quality of life.

NHF sponsored this public opinion poll to gauge general perceptions about migraine in light of scientific data published today in the peer-reviewed medical journal, Headache. Attitudes revealed by the opinion poll were in striking contrast to findings of the American Migraine Study II (AMS II) – A Ten Year Report Card, also conducted for the National Headache Foundation and underwritten by a grant from GlaxoSmithKline. AMS II is a scientific study conducted to assess the changes in migraine care over a decade. It follows up a similar, baseline study conducted in 1989. Key findings reveal that:

  • More than half (52%) of the people whose headaches fit the medical definition of migraine remain undiagnosed.Nearly six out of 10 (57%) people with migraine continue to rely solely on general over-the-counter pain relievers or on no medications at all to relieve pain, and most report they are dissatisfied with their treatment.
  • Migraine is misdiagnosed as sinus or tension headache almost as often as it is correctly diagnosed.

“The behavior of migraine sufferers has not kept pace with medical advances in the diagnosis and treatment of this disease,” said Richard Lipton, M.D., professor of neurology, epidemiology and social medicine at Albert Einstein College of Medicine, Bronx, N.Y., head, Centers for Health Improvement AdvancePCS, Stamford, CT and lead researcher of both the original American Migraine Study and the AMS II follow-up 10 years later. “We are seeing some progress. And the opportunities available to patients are immense. We just have to keep spreading the message that people who have the symptoms of migraine need to talk to their doctor because effective diagnosis and treatment is available. They don’t have to continue to suffer.”

Migraine is a common and treatable condition characterized by throbbing head pain, usually located on one side of the head, often accompanied by nausea and sensitivity to light and/or sound. The combination of disabling pain and associated symptoms often prevents sufferers from performing daily activities. Attacks occur periodically and can last from four to 72 hours. When migraine sufferers have their condition effectively treated, they report a significant improvement in their work, family and social lives.

Among the advances documented by AMS II are:

  • More people whose headaches fit the medical definition of migraine are being diagnosed now than they were a decade ago (48% versus 39%).
  • Approximately 41% of migraineurs are effectively managing their migraine pain and associated symptoms.
  • People who use migraine-specific prescription medications, particularly the triptan class of therapies, report a high level of satisfaction with their overall treatment program.

“We’ve spent many years educating people about the seriousness of migraine, and encouraging them not to ignore the symptoms, but to go to their doctor and ask for help,” said Suzanne Simons, executive director of the National Headache Foundation. “It’s gratifying to see that more patients are becoming aware of this debilitating disease and are working together with their healthcare provider to get the best care. But, as the study data show, we still have work to do.”

AMS II measured the prevalence of migraine headache in the American population, assessed its impact on a patient’s daily life and measured the changes in migraine management. The initial study assessed the burden of migraine in the U.S. population and was published in Journal of the American Medical Association in 1992. To reassess prevalence and disease burden, AMS II targeted 20,000 households, receiving a 69 percent response rate. These households contained 29,258 individuals aged 12 and older; of these, 6,211 were severe headache sufferers and 3,738 had migraine as defined by established International Headache Society (IHS) criteria.

Additionally, the NHF’s nationwide public opinion poll presents the findings of a telephone survey conducted among a probability sample of 1,021 adults comprised of 510 men and 511 women 18 years of age and older, living in private households in the continental United States. Opinion Research Group of Princeton, N.J., conducted the interviewing during the period of July 19-22, 2001.

Study Sponsors:

The National Headache Foundation (NHF), founded in 1970, is a Chicago-based national nonprofit organization committed to promoting education and public awareness about the headache as a legitimate biological disease, and serves as the leading resource for headache sufferers, their families and healthcare providers. Information on membership, patient education materials and support groups is available by calling (888) NHF-5552, writing to NHF at 820 N. Orleans, Suite 411, Chicago, IL 60610, or visiting

GlaxoSmithKline, one of the world’s leading research-based pharmaceutical and health care companies, is committed to improving the quality of human life by enabling people to do more, feel better and live longer. U.S. headquarters are in Research Triangle Park, N.C., and Philadelphia, Pa. More information is available at