Migraine Awareness Day

On June 21st AMD celebrates its first annual migraine awareness day to bring this disease to a higher level of public consciousness and eliminate the stigma associated with it.On June 21, the longest day of the year, I will grab my favorite pair of shades and wear them around my neck all day long, indoors and out.  Why? Those sunglasses symbolize my support for those who live with migraine. 

As an ear, nose and throat doctor (ENT), I may seem to be an unlikely person to treat migraine patients, but that assumption is wrong.  I see many patients who have various forms of dizziness and sinusitis that are related to their hypersensitive nervous system.

For an inherited disease affecting one out of every 4 families, migraine disease remains one of the most misunderstood diseases.  For most people, it is synonymous with a bad headache, but its symptoms can involve all of our senses and many body parts.  And it is easily confused with other diseases. 

This poor understanding of migraine has a cost.  Management of pain is the single most costly US health problem and headaches alone cost the US over $30 billion annually. In addition, there is over $17 billion in lost wages each year due to migraine. 

The World Health Organization (WHO) found in its Global Burden of Disease survey of 310 diseases that, on average, someone who lives with migraine disease loses two and half years of healthy life. By this standard, migraine emerged as the third highest cause of disability in the world for people less than 50 years old. 

In seeking relief, most people with migraine disease visit their primary care providers. Yet front-line medical professionals often struggle to provide satisfactory care because there are not specific diagnostic tests and treatments are long and challenging.  It’s not as simple as choosing an antibiotic for a strep throat.  

So what can be done to address this complex genetic disease?

I believe that the solution is more research.  Investment in migraine research has the potential to be the cornerstone of our national effort to advance neuroscience.  It will also shed new light into the other common, disabling diseases that are associated and probably functionally linked to migraine, such as anxiety, depression, fibromyalgia, colic, gastric and pelvic pains, sleep disorders, tinnitus, and post-concussion headaches.  

The Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act (P.L. 114-198) is a legislative effort to address the opioid epidemic.  It includes a provision that NIH must consider research designed to find alternatives to opioids.  But it needs to be funded.  Currently the Trump administration turns a blind-eye to this opportunity and proposes a 12% reduction in federal research funding. 

This challenge highlights the importance of a strong unified migraine community. We need to punch our weight.  Migraine disease is invisible but its proponents should not be. 

We need a common symbol, similar to the pink ribbon of breast cancer, and an exciting activity, reminiscent of the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge.  We propose that everyone who has ever suffered from a migraine attack or cares about someone who does wear a pair of sunglasses all day  (hanging around your neck is okay) on June 21.  Take a picture of yourself wearing those sunglasses (with your boss?) and post it (#ShadesforMigraine). Challenge your friends to show their support for migraine. 

Frederick Godley, MD, FACS, is the President of the Association of Migraine Disorders and a general otolaryngologist practicing in Providence, Rhode Island. Learn more at: www.ShadesforMigraine.org.