Variation in migraine prevalence by race

Walter F. Stewart, Richard B. Lipton, Joshua Liberman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

305 Scopus citations


Purpose: Estimates of migraine prevalence from African and Asian populations are lower than those observed in European and North American populations. To determine if these international differences reflect differences in cultural, environmental, or genetic factors, we compared the prevalence of migraine among Caucasians, African Americans, and Asian Americans in the United States. If genetic factors predominate, racial differences should persist in the United States. Methods: In Baltimore County, Maryland, 12,328 individuals 18 to 65 years of age were selected by random-digit dialing and interviewed by telephone about their headaches. Migraine diagnoses were assigned using International Headache Society criteria. Results: In women, migraine prevalence was significantly higher in Caucasians (20.4%) than in African (16.2%) or Asian (9.2%) Americans. A similar pattern was observed among men (8.6%, 7.2%, and 4.2%). African Americans were less likely to report nausea or vomiting with their attacks, but more likely to report higher levels of headache pain. In contrast, African Americans tended to be less disabled by their attacks than Caucasians. There were no statistically significant differences in associated features between Asian American and Caucasian migraineurs. Conclusions: In the United States, migraine prevalence is highest in Caucasians, followed by African Americans and Asian Americans. While differences in socioeconomic status, diet, and symptom reporting may contribute to differences in estimated prevalence, we suggest that race-related differences in genetic vulnerability to migraine are more likely to predominate as an explanatory factor.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)52-59
Number of pages8
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jul 1996

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Clinical Neurology


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