Jaime Sanders has suffered from migraines since she was eight-years-old. Despite her chronic pain, she has “always managed to find the strength and will to move forward in life.” Sanders, a patient advocate and blogger, was joined by experts in different areas of migraine research and treatment to discuss the societal burden of this debilitating disease during a Research!America Capitol Hill briefing on June 15, 2017.
Walter Koroshetz, M.D., director of the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS), emphasized how the BRAIN initiative and current research have made significant progress in identifying causes of migraines. The research has led to a treatment currently under review at the Food and Drug Administration, he said. However, more research is needed not only to understand the molecular causes, but to learn and address disparities associated with this condition. “African American women have 27% more frequent headaches than Caucasian women,” he noted.
Amaal Starling, M.D., an associate professor and physician at the Mayo Clinic, noted the lack of funding for migraine research and physicians to treat patients. While 40 million Americans suffer from migraines, there are only 520 headache specialists in the U.S., she said.
“We need to get that word out and encourage new physicians to go into headache medicine," added Mary Franklin, executive director of the National Headache Foundation who moderated the panel.
Dr. Starling said lack of funding leads to gaps in care. “Migraine is not just a headache. Migraine is a neurologic disease that deserves funding based on disease burden,” Starling said. More funding, she added, will give scientists and physicians the opportunity to research new treatment options.
As an adult, Sanders said she still suffers from the stigma associated with migraine which affects women disproportionately as well as veterans and children. "Migraine is as diverse a disorder as the people who occupy this planet. Not one migraine patient looks the same as the other," she stressed.
Brian Gifford, Ph.D., a researcher at the Integrated Benefits Institute, discussed the burden of migraine in the workplace. He estimates there is a $20 billion loss annually to employers on health care spending and productivity due to migraine.
The condition is not adequately addressed in the workplace, he said, further complicating efforts for migraine sufferers to effectively treat and manage their illness.