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Migraine is a Serious Neurological Disease – Not “just a headache”

Although migraine is a common medical condition with several effective treatments, people living with migraine face many barriers to receiving adequate care. Studies have shown that 14% of the population—over 5 million Canadians—live with migraine. However, migraine is underdiagnosed, misunderstood, and heavily stigmatized. Many of those living with migraine do not receive an accurate diagnosis. This is concerning as delayed diagnosis leads to undue disability and inadequate access to appropriate treatments.

Lack of early intervention increases the likelihood of deterioration toward more frequent attacks and chronic migraine. People frequently refer to themselves as a burden on their families as they lose time to migraine, miss out on social activities, playtime with children, and other important life events.

When patients do find a healthcare provider who supports them in finding effective treatment, new barriers emerge. There is limited public coverage for newer medications, and private insurers are increasingly restrictive in what they will cover. Often patients must delay receiving proper treatment and provide proof they have tried and failed less expensive older treatments that are less effective and have more side effects than newer treatment options. This prolongs suffering and increases migraine-related disability in Canada. Newer medications for migraine are available, and include monoclonal antibodies and drugs called gepants that can reduce the frequency of migraine attacks for many with migraine. The gepants, like the triptans, are also used to treat individual migraine attacks and have certain advantages over older medications including that frequent use does not lead to medication overuse headache.

People living with migraine are aware of its disabling consequences. Many others in our society, however, do not seem to realize that migraine is more than “just a headache.” The migraine burden is influenced by many factors including the frequency and severity of attacks. Those who have only a few attacks a year will have less disability than those with more frequent attacks. For both, however, the unpredictable timing of the attacks amplifies how much they interfere with activities. Taken as a whole, in part because it is so common, migraine imposes a huge burden of disability and economic loss on our society. The Global Burden of Disease study by the World Health Organization has shown that migraine is a major cause of disability worldwide.

Migraine Canada recently commissioned a report card that provides a detailed analysis of the issues faced by migraine patients across Canada. It sets the stage for coordinating a strategy that involves government, health professionals, and patients in improving migraine care in Canada. Within the report are recommendations that will be championed by Migraine Canada to improve the lives of Canadians with migraine and other headache disorders.

For more information, visit migrainecanada.org

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