Disabling headaches force people to miss an average of 11/2 days of work each year, according to a new study that also reinforced earlier findings that women are afflicted more often and more seriously than men.

The study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that most people suffered 10 to 12 headaches each year and about 10 percent of all headaches are migraines, distinguished from the common or "tension" headache by severe pain, nausea or vomiting, longer duration and a more acute reaction to sensory stimuli, like light and noise.Headaches rank seventh among common complaints needing outpatient care, and the National Headache Foundation estimates that direct and indirect costs for medical care and lost workdays are $6 billion to $10 billion annually.

Walter Stewart, one of five authors of the Journal report, said researchers did not try to come up with a dollar figure.

The Journal study involved telephone interviews with 10,169 residents of Washington County, Md., ages 12 to 29.

It was significant because it focused on a large-scale population at highest risk for the onset of serious headaches and because it gathered data on both long-term problems and headaches in the previous four weeks.

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(Chart)

Women suffer most

-Women, who reported suffering headaches more often and more seriously than men, missed an average 1.8 days annually, compared to 1.2 days for men. -Women said their headaches were of longer duration, more painful and worsened with age. Duration and intensity remained largely constant with men as they aged. -The most pronounced disablity was reported by women 24 to 29 _ the same group in which the least disability was described by males. -76 percent of females and 57 percent of males reported a headache in the previous four weeks; 14 percent of females and 6 percent of males reported four or more in that period; for migraines, 7 percent of females and 3 percent of males reported an episode in the four-week period. -Women said headaches, on average, last 8.2 hours, compared with 5.9 hours for men.