5 Reasons to Be Hopeful About the Future of Migraine Treatment

We often hear a lot of dismal news when it comes to migraine: less than 1/20th of 1% of the National Institute of Health’s budget goes toward migraine research, there’s no preventive designed specifically for migraine, there are only 416 UNCS-certified headache specialists in the U.S. While these things are true, they obscure the fact that there we’re in the midst of many exciting and encouraging developments in treating migraine. Here are five reasons I’m full of hope about the future of migraine treatment.

1. Good preventive and acute treatments are on the horizon. Two different types of drugs that work on CGRP drugs, one type for acute treatment and one type for prevention, have shown great promise in studies. This interview with headache specialist Peter Goadsby, M.D., explains just how exciting the research is. He ends the interview by saying that when these medication become available to patients, they will “revolutionize” treatment. (The video is eight minutes long, but well worth your time).

That’s just medication. Neuromodulation therapies, many of which are external and have miniscule side effects, are quite promising. Some, like transcranial magnetic stimulators and vagal nerve stimulators, are expected to be available to patients in 2015 and 2016. The American Headache Society conference in November included a five-hour session on neuromodulation techniques. All weekend, doctors, physician assistants, nurse practioners and nurses who attended the session were buzzing about the promising research and potential for providing patients with relief.

2. Scientists are getting a better understanding of the biology of migraine. Genetic sequencing continues to reveal genetic underpinnings of migraine. Scientists are finding potential “biomarkers” of migraine, which could be used to definitively diagnose migraine. Yes, someday there may be a test to prove you have migraine! Advanced imaging techniques show researchers what’s happening in the brain before, during, and after a migraine attack, and what the brain looks like when a migraineur isn’t in an attack. With a better understanding of what the migraine brain is like, better drugs can be developed. There’s even some indication that migraine drugs can be effective without crossing the blood-brain barrier, which is a tremendously difficult task.

3. More doctors are interested in treating migraine than ever before. My headache specialist, who heads a program that trains doctors in headache medicine and also travels around the world to present at conferences, told me in September that neurologists throughout the world are becoming more interested in treating migraine than ever before. He told me about general neurologists who have treated other neurological disorders their careers, but rarely saw migraine patients. These neurologists, who he talks to at every conferences around the globe, have now dedicated at least half their practice to learning about and treating migraine.

In addition to an increase in the general neurologists interested in treating migraine, there has been a jump in the number of academic headache programs. This translates directly to greater numbers of doctors trained to specialize in headache disorders. At the AHS conference this year, I was astonished by the number of people currently in training that I saw and spoke with.

4. Many health care providers are personally affected by migraine and deeply committed to helping their patients find relief. During the opening remarks of the American Headache Society conference, AHS president Lawrence Newman, M.D., shared his deep frustration with available migraine treatment and implored attendees to support the 36 Million Migraine campaign so that more research could be done to benefit patients. Then the room went dark. Dr. Newman asked everyone stand up and light their cell phones to “shine a light on migraine.” Seeing that room light up was so powerful I teared up.

Then, in the first presentation of the day, Dawn Buse, Ph.D., requested that everyone who has migraine stand up. Three-quarters of the people in the room stood. When she asked those who love someone with migraine to stand, I didn’t see a single person sitting down.

These were just two moments during the conference when I was overwhelmed by the number of doctors, physician assistants, nurse practitioners, nurses and psychologists who are compassionate and devoted to helping people with migraine. “These people care,” I thought numerous times during the conference.

5. Organizations and campaigns are dedicated to raising money migraine research. There’s the current 36 Million Migraine campaign, which I’ve written about before. Headache specialists started and work to support the campaign, which garners publicity through Cindy McCain’s involvement. The National Headache Foundation and Migraine Research Foundation also raise money for migraine research and provide grants to scientists. There are also fundraising runs, like Miles for Migraine and Runnin’ for Research.

The Tide is Turning

It’s true that people with migraine have been shortchanged over the years, but the tide is turning. November’s AHS conference had a different energy than the other three I’ve attended. Providers are enthusiastic about helping people with migraine and are excited about developments in treatment and research. I’ve been writing about migraine for nearly 10 years. What I’ve learned in the last few months gives me more hope for our future than I’ve ever had before. I hope it does the same for you.

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