Migraine and psychiatric comorbidities among sub-saharan African adults

Bizu Gelaye, B. Lee Peterlin, Seblewengel Lemma, Markos Tesfaye, Yemane Berhane, Michelle A. Williams

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Scopus citations


Background. - Despite being a highly prevalent disorder and substantial cause of disability, migraine is understudied in Africa. Moreover, no previous study has investigated the effects of stress and unipolar psychiatric comorbidities on migraine in a sub-Saharan African cohort. Objective. - To evaluate the prevalence of migraine and its association with stress and unipolar psychiatric comorbidities among a cohort of African adults. Methods. - This was a cross-sectional epidemiologic study evaluating 2151 employed adults in sub-Saharan Africa. A standardized questionnaire was used to identify sociodemographic, headache, and lifestyle characteristics of participants. Migraine classification was based on the International Classification of Headache Disorders-2 diagnostic criteria. Depressive, anxiety, and stress symptoms were ascertained with the Patient Health Questionnaire and the Depression Anxiety Stress Scale, respectively. Multivariable logistic regression models were used to estimate adjusted odds ratio (OR) and 95% confidence intervals (CIs). Results. - A total of 9.8% (n = 212) of study participants fulfilled criteria for migraine (9.8%, 95% CI 8.6-11.1) with a higher frequency among women (14.3%, 95% CI 11.9-16.6) than men (6.9%, 95% CI 5.5-8.3). Similar to predominantly Caucasian migraine cohorts, sub-Saharan African migraineurs were more likely to be younger, have a lower education, and more likely to report a poor health status than non-migraineurs. However, in contrast with historical reports in predominantly Caucasian migraine cohorts, sub-Saharan African migraineurs were less likely to report smoking than non-migraineurs. Participants with moderately severe depressive symptoms had over a 3-fold increased odds of migraine (OR = 3.36, 95% CI 1.30-8.70) compared with those classified as having minimal or no depressive symptoms, and the odds of migraine increased with increasing severity of depressive symptoms (P trend < 0.001). Similarly, those with mild, moderate, and severe anxiety symptoms had increased odds of migraine (OR = 2.28, 95% CI 1.24-4.21; OR = 1.77, 95% CI 0.93-3.35; and OR = 5.39, 95% CI 2.19-13.24, respectively). Finally, those with severe stress had a 3.57-fold increased odds of migraine (OR = 3.57, 95% CI 1.35-9.46). Conclusion. - Although historically it has been reported that migraine prevalence is greater in Caucasians than African Americans, our study demonstrates a high migraine prevalence among urban-dwelling Ethiopian adults (9.9%) that is comparable with what is typically reported in predominantly Caucasian cohorts. Further, among employed sub-Saharan African adults and similar to predominantly Caucasian populations, migraine is strongly associated with stress and unipolar psychiatric symptoms. The high burden of migraine and its association with stress and unipolar psychiatric symptoms in our study of well-educated and urban-dwelling African adults has important clinical and public health implications pending confirmation in other African populations.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)310-321
Number of pages12
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 2013
Externally publishedYes


  • anxiety
  • comorbidity
  • depression
  • migraine
  • stress
  • sub-Saharan Africa

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neurology
  • Clinical Neurology


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