Combating Migraine through Advocacy

Izzy Okparanta

Migraine affects about 12% of the U.S. population but medical school education is lacking, the disease is often misdiagnosed, and stigma surrounding the condition persists. Speakers at the Society for Women’s Health Research’s October 2 event in Washington, D.C. discussed these and other factors impacting access to quality care for migraine sufferers.

Three-quarters of migraine sufferers in the U.S. are women. Panelist Katie Golden, who suffers from chronic migraine, had to quit her job because of her condition which fueled her passion for advocacy. She said advocating for migraine-related policy to close existing gaps in care has added meaning to her life. “My first advocacy event was Headache on the Hill,” Golden said. “I really enjoyed the interaction and understanding how policy works.”

Other panelists stressed the importance of medical school education and public awareness initiatives.

“Migraine has a very long history of being treated as a trivial condition,” said sociologist Joanna Kempner, Ph.D., Associate Professor, Rutgers University. “Partly because people conflate migraine with headache.” Migraine pain can last from four to 72 hours if untreated and is often accompanied by other symptoms such as nausea and/or vomiting or sensitivity to light and/or sound, according to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.

Jelena Pavlovic, MD, Ph.D., Assistant Professor, Albert Einstein College of Medicine, said medical school students must deepen their knowledge of migraine. “The issue is that neurology is not a required rotation in medical school,” Pavlovic said. “This is changing increasingly, but it’s changing slowly.”

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Paul D’ Addario, retinitis pigmentosa patient