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Migraine simulator – educational tool or more stigma?

The makers of Excedrin recently launched a virtual reality migraine simulator that mimics some symptoms of a migraine attack. Scott Yacovino, a representative from Excedrin, claims, “We’re simulating the symptoms of migraine – everything but the pain…” Unfortunately, this isn’t quite accurate. The VR tool only replicates aura, floating spots, disorientation, tunnel vision, and bright lights.

Critics argue that without the experience of pain, nausea, vomiting, and communication impairment, non-sufferers cannot possibly understand what we go through. While I applaud Excedrin’s efforts to increase migraine awareness, it does fall short. The biggest problem is that most migraine patients do not ever experience an aura. Less than 25% of all migraine patients are diagnosed as having Migraine with Aura. The VR tool is not representative of the majority of migraine sufferers. Additionally, lights are not just “too bright” during a migraine attack. Any amount of light is physically painful. It is the same with sound and smell. No virtual reality simulator can replicate these experiences.

Excedrin has plans to release this simulator in May as a Google Cardboard app for anyone to use. I have reservations about this. Migraine attacks are so varied, even for an individual patient. None of us have the same symptoms. How do you replicate mood swings, food cravings, neck stiffness, or that insatiable craving for quiet, cold darkness? Migraine is a whole-body experience, not just a visual one.

Plus, the experience isn’t complete without long hours of isolation and the utter exhaustion that hangs on for hours after the pain has stopped. Unlike the volunteers in the Excedrin commercials, we can’t pull off a headset when we’ve had enough. Wishing to pop off our heads or trade ours in for healthy models are common, albeit morbid, jokes among migraineurs. To actually create an accurate “migraine experience” would never be approved because it would be deemed inhumane. Cindy McCain had it right. Migraine is torture.

This virtual reality app may have unintended consequences. It offers people a chance to experience a handful of visual symptoms that are actually quite rare. That may lead to an incorrect assumption that migraine isn’t “real” if it doesn’t look like the Excedrin app. We may discover a whole new set of stigmatizing myths, courtesy of Excedrin Migraine.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The Migraine.com team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

  1. Mosbergen, Dominique, (8 Apr 2016). Emotional Video Shows People Experiencing Migraines For The First Time — In Virtual Reality, The Huffington Post, April 8, 2016, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/migraine-virtual-reality-video_us_57075b60e4b0c4e26a225176
  2. Pesce, Nicole Lyn, (7 Apr 2016). Excedrin ‘Migraine Experience’ lets non-sufferers ‘see’ what debilitating headaches feel like, New York Daily Times, April 7, 2016, http://www.nydailynews.com/life-style/health/excedrin-migraine -experience-lets-people-headaches-article-1.2591628
  3. The Migraine Experience, Novartis Consumer Health, Inc., http://www.excedrin.com/migraine-experience

Comments

  • Tim Autry
    3 years ago

    No way this “Migraine Simulator” going to be a educational tool for those who don’t suffer migraine attacks. There is just no comparison. Epic Fail here Excedrin. This will cause more harm than good, increasing the already bountiful stigma around migraine attack.
    As I’ve always told people who don’t suffer from migraine attacks, I would never wish these attacks on my worst enemy, the migraine attacks are the worst type of torture I’ve ever experienced.

  • LAnnSmith
    3 years ago

    Perhaps some of us should wear GoPro cameras during a migraine attack. It wouldn’t capture much, but it would be a start.

  • CBDMegame
    3 years ago

    Luna, I love that idea. As a chronic migraineur, add FM and shake with unique brain damage due to Norflex. (and guess which cripple me?) I have gotten so used to living on the fringe it never occured how ‘migra-lite’ the CM I viewed was. I am so grateful for the scraps of understanding, I forget they are often scraps. Often by those who are PAID and we rely on for current info. I bawled for three hours straight when I found this site. I teared up when I saw the commercial. But it told a poor story and I hope Excederin will put serious thought into adjusting it’s VR before release. Perhaps a few video’s from true migraine sufferers? With a variety?

  • Leilani Siplon
    3 years ago

    I cried, too.

  • Luna
    3 years ago

    Is there a group in the migraine community that could try to work with Excedrin to come up with a better simulator and adding to it a description of the many varieties of symptoms or something that would be a better educational tool?

  • Tammy Rome author
    3 years ago

    There is a doctor who is working with them now. The challenge is that migraine without aura is so difficult to replicate in a way that does not involve abuse of the test subjects.

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