Gender has profound, complex effects across all fields of health, and neurology is no exception. Biological differences such as sex hormones across the life cycle affect the symptoms and onset of Alzheimer’s, multiple sclerosis, and other conditions. Cultural mores mean that women do most of the caregiving for loved ones with Alzheimer’s disease, even as they are at greater risk than men for developing the condition. Even history plays a part, as for generations women have been left out of clinical trials.

For Women’s History Month 2021, the Duke Neurology and Neurosurgery Department will be sharing a series of articles discussing the intersections of women’s health and neurological and neurosurgical conditions. Today, neurologist and headache specialist Jaskiran Vidwan, DO, will be discussing migraines, which are three times as common among women as they are among men. Vidwan discusses some of the reasons why migraines are more frequent, how symptoms differ between men and women, and how migraines affect women at various stages of their lives. Finally Vidwan discusses therapies that can help women and men cope with migraines and advances in treatment we may see in the next several years.

What are migraines, and how do they differ from other forms of headache?

Migraines are distinguished from other headache disorders based on their features. Migraines are recurring headaches that involve moderate to severe pain that is typically on one side of the head. These headaches are disabling and may be worsened by routine physical activity. They are associated with light and sound sensitivity and/or nausea or vomiting and may last for 4-72 hours when untreated.

What are some of the differences in how migraines affect women and men?

Women are more likely to suffer from migraines than men. Of the 39 million Americans that have migraine, 28 million are women. And while the general characteristics of a migraine are the same for both genders, migraine attacks may last longer in women and be more intense in severity than in men. Women are also more likely to have greater disability (e.g., difficulty functioning and continuing normal activities) during a migraine attack.


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