Study: Chronic Migraine is Disabling and Severely Affects the Ability to Lead a Productive Life

The National Headache Foundation‘s American Migraine Prevalence & Prevention Study data have been reanalyzed to reveal just how debilitating chronic migraine is. Chronic migraineurs have migraine episodes at least 15 days a month and most have pain every day. Approximately one million people -– mostly women -– have chronic migraine.

Key findings of the study, from a NHF press release:

Chronic migraine remains a largely under-diagnosed and under-treated medical condition.

While the vast majority of individuals with chronic migraine (87.6%) had sought care from a healthcare professional, just 20.2% of those with chronic migraine received a diagnosis of chronic migraine, chronic daily headache or transformed migraine. Another nearly 14% were told that they had rebound headache or medication overuse headache.

Migraine-specific acute treatments were used by 31.6% of respondents with chronic migraine. Almost half (48%) of the individuals with chronic migraine were satisfied with their acute therapies. A third of those with chronic migraine (33.3%) were currently using preventive medications.

Although most individuals with chronic migraine sought medical care for this disorder, the majority did not receive specific acute or preventive medications.

One in five chronic migraine sufferers cannot work due to the severity of their condition.

Over a 3-month period, 8.2% of the chronic migraineurs missed at least 5 days of work and school. Further, slightly more than a third (33.8%) of these sufferers reported at least 5 days of significant reduction in productivity during the same time frame.

Chronic migraine severely impacts one’s ability to lead a productive life.

More than half of those with chronic migraine (57.4%) missed at least 5 days of household work, and 58.1% reported a reduction in productivity in household work for at least 5 days within the last three months.

Chronic migraineurs also reported missing out on at least 5 days of family activities within the three month period.

“With one in five chronic migraine sufferers not being able to work due to the severity of their condition, the human and economic costs to these patients, their families and their employers are staggering,” said Suzanne E. Simons, Executive Director, National Headache Foundation. “This report shows there is much work to be done to help them get the proper diagnosis and treatment they need to be able to lead productive lives.”

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Headache Only One of Migraine’s Many Symptoms

More than half of people with migraine experience nausea, neck pain, or sensitivity to lights, sounds or smells during a migraine, yet few doctors regularly ask about symptoms other than headache. These findings, from a National Headache Foundation survey, include only a partial list of possible migraine symptoms.

Migraine Goes Beyond Head Pain
(National Headache Foundation press release)

Chicago, IL – August 13, 2008 – Migraine sufferers often experience a series of associated symptoms in addition to migraine head pain, according to a recent survey conducted by the National Headache Foundation (NHF). Survey results reveal that more than 50% of respondents said they frequently or always experience symptoms such as nausea, neck pain, or sensitivity to lights, sounds or smells when suffering from a migraine. Additionally, 78% of respondents said their healthcare professional does not regularly inquire about associated symptoms experienced beyond actual migraine head pain.

“It is extremely important for headache sufferers to talk with their healthcare professionals about symptoms occurring in conjunction with pain,” said Dr. Roger Cady, Vice President and Board member of NHF. “Diagnosis of migraine is based in part on associated symptoms or characteristics such as nausea, vomiting or sensitivity to lights but communication about the entire migraine experience aids your medical provider with proper diagnosis, understanding you, and your specific treatment needs.”

Of those respondents experiencing nausea or vomiting along with their migraine head pain, many reported having to delay taking migraine medication or taking additional medication to manage their nausea. Others said they alternate an injectable form of migraine medication instead of swallowing a pill.

In order to manage migraine head pain and associated symptoms, the majority of survey respondents said they try to maintain a regular sleep schedule, eat balanced meals and reduce stress.

Additional NHF survey results:

  • 78% of survey respondents reported missing work due to migraine pain and/or its associated symptoms.
  • 84% said they frequently or always experience throbbing pain on one-side of their head with their migraine.
  • When asked to rate their migraine pain on a scale of 1-10 with 10 being unbearable, 56% of respondents said their migraine pain is typically between a 7 and 8.

NHF’s tips for dealing with migraine head pain and associated symptoms:

  • Get help. Discuss the associated symptoms of your migraine with your healthcare provider. S/he can help you determine your treatment options.
  • If you experience nausea or vomiting as associated symptoms of your migraine, talk with your healthcare provider about other forms of your medication such as injections, nasal sprays or tablets that do not require drinking water to take them.
  • Avoid identifiable migraine triggers and practice a healthy lifestyle.
  • Track your migraines. Write down when your migraines occur. Bring your results to your healthcare professional to review. A free downloadable headache diary is available at www.headaches.org.

Seattle Doctors, Neurologists & Headache Specialists

I’ve been asked about Seattle headache specialists and neurologists more times than I can count in the last month. My experience is quite limited, but the online support group and forum has a thread with recommendations for Seattle headache doctors. If you have any to add, please do! You can also check What Do You Think of Your Doctor, an earlier post with lots of good suggestions, some in Seattle, some elsewhere.

Here’s what I know:

I’ve seen Sylvia Lucas at UW and Sheena Aurora at Swedish. They are both kind and caring. We all click with different people, of course, but I found Dr. Lucas to be more patient-oriented and Dr. Aurora to be more research-oriented. Both have at least three-month long waiting lists. It took six months to get into my first appointment with Dr. Lucas and follow-ups are usually scheduled two months out. Dr. Aurora is more like three months for an initial appointment.

A friend sees Patrick Hogan, an osteopathic neurologist, in Tacoma. His number is (253) 284-4488. He requires a doctor’s referral regardless of your insurance and your family/general physician will have to contact his office to get you in.

For other doctors in the Seattle area — or anywhere else in the US, check the National Headache Foundation’s physician finder or the American Headache Society’s health care provider search.

National Headache Awareness Week: Get a Head S.T.A.R.T. on Your Headaches

In recognition of the 15th annual National Headache Awareness Week, the National Headache Foundation (NHF) is announcing a series of events across the country in order to educate the public about types of headache and their impact on daily living, as well as stressing the importance of seeking an accurate diagnosis and appropriate treatments. This year’s National Headache Awareness Week takes place June 1-7, 2008. Nearly 21 million people were reached last year through this successful annual campaign.

“One of our primary goals during National Headache Awareness Week is to gain recognition of headache pain as a real and legitimate condition,” said Dr. Seymour Diamond, Executive Chairman of the National Headache Foundation. “Over 45 million Americans get chronic, recurring headaches. Of this number, nearly 30 million have migraine headaches.”

Activities taking place across the country this week include headache screenings, educational seminars led by expert physicians, menstrual migraine awareness events and a 5-part podcast series focusing on women’s headache issues, a radio news release and the launch of a non-profit NHF channel on YouTube.

This year, the NHF is encouraging sufferers to “Get a Head S.T.A.R.T. on Your Headaches,” offering five easy-to-remember strategies for effective headache management and treatment:

  • Seek diagnosis — Obtaining the correct diagnosis for your headache is the first step toward effective treatment.
  • Triggers — Identify and track your triggers (e.g., foods, stress, hormonal and weather changes) by keeping a headache diary and share this information with your healthcare provider.
  • Advocate — Be an advocate. Be informed. Be a participant in your headache care.
  • Resources — Utilize the National Headache Foundation as a resource. Visit www.headaches.org for the latest information about headache causes and treatments, or call 1-888-NHF-5552.
  • Treatment — Successful treatment may include medications and lifestyle changes. Work with your healthcare provider to find the right plan for you.

For the first time, this year’s campaign is drawing specific attention to menstrual migraines by designating Wednesday, June 4th as National Menstrual Migraine Awareness Day. In support of Menstrual Migraine Awareness Day efforts, the NHF will also be releasing new survey data from a recent poll of its website respondents suffering from menstrual migraine.

Additionally, the NHF is hosting a five-part podcast series specifically addressing women’s headache issues including Hormones & Headache, Contraception & Headaches, Pregnancy & Headache, Menopause & Headaches and Menstrual Migraine. Podcasts and expert questions and answers are available through links on the National Headache Awareness Week page.

This post is adapted from a National Headache Foundation press release. -Kerrie

Expert Answers to Your Headache & Migraine Questions

NHAW logoSubmit your headache or migraine questions to the National Headache Foundation for answers from experts. Selected questions will be answered during National Headache Awareness Week, June 1-7.

Also, check to see if any headache awareness events will be held in your area.