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  • Writer's pictureEscalate Life Sciences

New Hope for Migraine Sufferers

There are now a number of medications that may prevent or alleviate migraines, as well as a wearable nerve-stimulating device that can be activated by a smartphone.

If you live with or work with someone who suffers from migraine, there’s something very important you should know: A migraine is not “just a headache,” as many seem to think. Nor is it something most sufferers can simply ignore and get on with their lives.

And if you are a migraine sufferer, there’s something potentially life-changing that you should know: There are now a number of medications available that can either prevent or alleviate many attacks, as well as a newly marketed wearable nerve-stimulating device that can be activated by a smartphone to relieve the pain of migraine.

Migraine is a neurological disorder characterized by recurrent attacks of severe, often incapacitating headache and dysfunction of the autonomic nervous system, which controls the body’s myriad automatic activities like digestion and breathing. The throbbing or pulsating pain of migraine is often accompanied by nausea and vomiting.

Translation: Migraine is a headache, all right, but with body-wide effects because the brain converses with the rest of the body. It is often severe enough to exact a devastating toll on someone’s ability to work, interact with others, perform the tasks of daily life, or even be in a normal living environment. When in the throes of a migraine attack, sufferers may be unable to tolerate light, noise, smells or even touch.

Dr. Stephen Silberstein, a neurologist at Thomas Jefferson University and director of the Jefferson Headache Center, told me “There are 47 million people in this country with migraine, and for six million, the condition is chronic, which means they have more than 15 headache days a month,” he said.

“It’s time to destigmatize migraine and provide sufferers with effective treatment,” said Dr. David W. Dodick, neurologist at the Mayo Clinic in Scottsdale. “They’re not fakers, weak individuals who are trying to get out of work.”

n addition to the price paid by individuals with migraine, the cost to employers can be exorbitant. For example, in a recent survey by the Japanese Headache Society of more than 2,400 workers at Fujitsu, an information technology company based in Tokyo, the productivity of one employee in five was impaired by migraine, at an estimated cost to the company of nearly 150,000 employees of $350 million a year.

For the United States as a whole, the economic burden exacted by migraine is staggering — at least $11 billion in direct medical and related costs and at least another $11 billion in indirect costs from the disability it causes, according to Dr. Wayne N. Burton of Chicago, former global corporate medical director at American Express.

Not only does migraine result in absenteeism, but also what specialists call “presenteeism” — people who are at work but unable to function effectively. A former editor of mine with migraine had to go home as soon as he sensed an impending migraine or he would be unable to get home until it resolved.

Written by: Jane E. Brody

Published on: Jan. 6, 2020, 5:00 a.m. ET

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