Migraines, Other Headaches a Painful Problem for Arizonans

Feel like your head is going to explode?

You’re not alone. In fact, about 1.4 million Arizonans say they are experiencing acute headaches, with women suffering far more than men.

A newly released survey by Barrow Neurological Institute reported one out of five Arizonans experience severe headaches. More than 80 percent of these are women and most sufferers are under 55 years old. Migraines were the top category of headaches identified, while the other major types listed were tension and sinus. Experts point out, however, that many who believe they are having tension or sinus headaches are actually experiencing migraines.

Why are so many Arizonans’ heads hurting? Without a doubt, stress is the No. 1 cause. Other leading reasons are lack of sleep and weather changes. Interestingly, only six percent listed alcohol as a headache trigger.

photo of phoenix neurologist kerry knievel
Dr. Kerry Knievel
Barrow Neurologist

Headaches have long been known as one of the most common neurological problems and national statistics now show 1-in-8 people have been diagnosed with migraines. Incredibly, 1 percent of the U.S. population suffers from chronic migraines, meaning they have headaches 15 or more days a month.

“Patients who come to Barrow often say they have lost control of their lives because of headaches. This is a condition that has not been treated with the seriousness it deserves,” says Dr. Kerry Knievel, DO, a Barrow neurologist and leading headache specialist.

June is National Headache Awareness Month and the survey results come as Barrow is increasing its commitment to headache research and treatment. With a generous grant from Jan and Tom Lewis, Barrow’s Jan & Tom Lewis Migraine Treatment Program is expanding staff and resources. Barrow is part of Dignity Health St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center.

The Barrow study showed the impact of headaches on Arizonans is far reaching. Two-thirds say that their productivity at home, work, and school is reduced, while over half maintain the headaches impact their sleep and cause them to miss activities. Migraine sufferers are most likely to experience many of these negative impacts and they often are unable to drive.

Bosses’ reactions to employees missing work because of a headache vary. The survey showed that one-third of bosses sounded irritated or annoyed about sick time for a headache, with 17 percent of the sufferers reporting that their supervisors sounded suspicious.

Patients who come to Barrow often say they have lost control of their lives because of headaches. This is a condition that has not been treated with the seriousness it deserves.

Dr. Kerry Knievel, Barrow Neurologist

“These outmoded attitudes underscore that many people don’t understand the significant physical and mental effects of severe headaches,” said Dr. Knievel. “Also, many in the medical field aren’t trained to provide patients with accurate diagnoses or proper treatments.” The survey revealed that only about a quarter of sufferers have sought a headache specialist.

While most take over-the-counter medication for pain, almost half also say they would consider alternative treatments like marijuana to ease pain. One-in-three say they would consider alternative treatments like DAITH ear piercing and about a quarter would use Botox. Botox, best known for smoothing wrinkles, has been shown to decrease pain in some headache patients. Other patients have tried DAITH, an ear piercing that passes through the ear’s innermost cartilage fold. Treatments at Barrow vary according to each patient. They include drug therapy, nerve blocks, infusions, local anesthetic, and magnetic stimulation. DAITH is not available at Barrow.

The online survey of 424 Arizona adults was conducted by WestGroup Research between May 15 and May 25, 2017. The margin of error is +/- 4.76 percent.