Driving change to address the burden of migraine

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

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Credit: Eli Lilly

Maria Teresa Ferretti is Co-Founder and Chief Scientific Officer at Women’s Brain Project.

This was the conclusion at a recent roundtable, ‘Heads Together: Elevating Unmet Needs In Migraine’, organized by Women’s Brain Project (www.womensbrainproject.com) and Lilly, to discuss the long-reaching impact of migraine and the need for a more urgent approach to how the condition is managed.

Vice President of the European Brain Council, Professor Wolfgang Oertel, highlighted that “if left unchecked, migraine presents a devastating public health challenge. Policy has the power to change this. The key is education – education of healthcare professionals during their medical training, education of society from a young age on migraine management, and improvement of public awareness to help not only people with migraine, but employers and society as a whole”.

As a complex neurological disease, migraine remains under-diagnosed, under-treated and poorly understood. The debilitating effects of migraine, alongside an inconsistent care pathway, create a personal and financial impact, robbing people of their right to fully contribute to society.

Despite being the second leading cause of disability, and among the most common health conditions worldwide (especially among women who represent over 80% of patients[i]), migraine continues to not be prioritized enough in policy action, leaving the quality of life for people with migraine to rapidly deteriorate.

“There’s a lot of time lost and life missed with migraine where you’re forced to abandon plans while you’re trying to manage what you’re experiencing. You move into survival mode; you’re not really participating fully and it’s more about just getting by in life,” said Christina Brewster-Maund, person with migraine and advocate for change. These debilitating symptoms can lead to significant lost productivity – an average of four and eight hours for episodic and chronic migraine each week, respectively[ii]. The financial cost of migraine to the European economy is estimated to be a staggering €50 billion a year.[iii] Given the number of working women living with migraine, ensuring access to proper care pathways represents not just an economic, but also a gender equity priority.

It’s time to challenge the status quo according to Professor Piero Barbanti, leading headache specialist: “The goal in migraine treatment is to improve the patient’s quality of life. To do this, we should follow an integrated approach tailored for each patient.”

In addition to providing resources to improve effective treatment, policies should include commitment to improving public awareness of migraine to help reduce the associated stigma and provide better support systems for those living with the disease. Ongoing research of migraine will help with identification of biomarkers to improve diagnosis and the development of targeted treatments, and improve public and healthcare professional understanding of the impact and needs of people with migraine, providing clear data on the economic burden of migraine.

The time for change is now and urgent policy action is needed

Professor Oertel reiterates the fact that political action will have a strong impact on how people with migraine support themselves: “With increased political support, people with migraine will begin to feel empowered to speak out about their needs – whether that be at work, socially, or when seeking treatment. These insights can also help to inform and shape policies to improve the state of migraine care, emotionally and financially.”

Migraine has been consistently dismissed in public health agendas. We must create a place where migraine sufferers are empowered to become managers of their disease, where you’re more than surviving, but thriving in your life and in society. Policymakers, patients, society and healthcare professionals all have a role to play in actively supporting and advocating for policy action that will give people with migraine a better quality of life and the life they deserve. It’s time to respect migraine.

Watch the visual representation of the existing patient unmet needs and care pathway gaps below.

About Women’s Brain Project

The Women’s Brain Project (WBP) is an international non-profit organization based in Switzerland harnessing the brilliance of a global team of scientists. They are experts from various disciplines who work with patients and caregivers towards the implementation of sex and gender within precision medicine, from basic science to novel technologies. Their mission is to clearly identify sex and gender differences and leverage them for tailored solutions, as well as to bring precision to novel technologies, clinical practice and policy for brain and mental disease. Find out more on www.womensbrainproject.com.

[i] Diamond S, et al. Patterns of diagnosis and acute and preventive treatment for migraine in the United States: results from the American Prevalence and Prevention study. Headache. 2007;47.

[ii]  Serrano D, et al. Cost and predictors of lost productive time in chronic migraine and episodic migraine: results from the American Migraine Prevalence and Prevention (AMPP) Study. Value Health. 2013;16(1): 31-38.

[iii] Linde M, et al. European Journal of Neurology. 2012;19: 703-e43.

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