25% Increase in Number of Certified Headache Specialists

An additional 104 headache specialists were certified by the United Council for Neurologic Subspecialities in 2014. That brings the number of specialists in the U.S. to 520, which is a 25% increase! The numbers are still small, but that’s a huge increase in a single year. Considering that 2007 is the first year this certification was offered, we’re making good progress. Last year’s increase reflects a growing interest in headache medicine, which is certain to benefit those of us with migraine.

My headache specialist made an offhand comment to me last fall that filled me with so much hope. He told me that nearly every week, a different doctor comes to his clinic to learn how to set up a headache-focused practice and best treat people with headache disorders. He also described attending conferences around the world and talking to general neurologists who are now dedicating the majority of their practices to treating migraine after having spent their careers treating a wide range of neurological disorders.

The reason for the increased interest is that migraine is getting easier to treat. Topamax and Botox are two tools that reliably help a large number of patients with migraine. The CGRP drugs that are in development just get more exciting with each new study. Multiple types of neuromodulation are showing promise, too. Of course we still need more research, better treatments, and increased research funding, but we’re starting to gain a foothold.

My doctor's comment prompted me to try this exercise: imagine you’re a medical student choosing a specialty. Would you really want to enter a field where you had to tell so many patients, “Sorry, I can’t help you,” while knowing that few treatments were even in development and that funding for research was practically nonexistent? Would you want to dedicate yourself to a career that made you feel helpless? Unless you have a personal interest or thrive on challenge, the answer is probably no.

Fortunately, some tenacious people have risen to the challenge. There have gotten migraine treatment and research to a level that looks promising to other doctors, thus enticing more to the field. With new specialists comes more patient access to qualified doctors. The 25% increase in specialist certifications last year alone bodes well for our future.

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