That midlife crisis in your 40s actually comes with some benefits. Fewer headaches are one of them.
“Yes, it’s a fact that headaches happen less often the older you get,” says Mattias Linde, professor of neuromedicine at NTNU.
Research from NTNU shows that four out of ten Norwegian women and three out of ten Norwegian men are plagued by headaches.
Worst in one’s 30s
Headaches are a major social problem. They lead to loss of work time and a reduced quality of life, and are a widespread disorder that affects especially women in the most active years of their lives.
But there is hope.
Linde used data from HUNT, the Nord-Trøndelag Health Study, that included 51 383 people who had answered questions about headaches. The resulting patterns he found were quite clear.
Headaches of all types increase from about age 20 to age 39 and are the most bothersome between ages 30 and 39. Once the forties hit, the prevalence of headaches declines steadily with age. By the time people turn 80 years old, relatively few still suffer from headaches.
These results apply to both women and men.
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Stiffening blood vessels
According to Linde, so far scientists can only theorize about why people get fewer headaches as they age.
- One theory is that as older people’s senses get weaker, they simply no longer feel the headache and its associated symptoms.
- Another explanation is that older people’s blood vessel walls thicken and stiffen, with the result that they don’t pulsate and expand as much.
- A third explanation is that people become more sensible as they age and don’t get stressed out as often.
“Many older people still have just as many headaches, but they aren’t adequately captured through diagnostic criteria. For many of them, the pulsating pain is probably what’s no longer there,” says Linde.
Time trends in the prevalence of headache disorders. The Nord-Trøndelag Health Studies (HUNT 2 and HUNT 3). Mattias Linde, Lars Jacob Stovner, John-Anker Zwart, Knut Hagen. Cephalalgia: Vol 31, Issue 5, pp. 585 – 596
Head-HUNT — the hunt for the causes of headaches. Journal Den norske legeforening [The Norwegian Medical Association]