Stopping migraines would alleviate Australia’s $35b headache

solving migraines Photo by Anh Nguyen on Unsplash

I didn’t need to read the Migraine in Australia Whitepaper by Deloitte Access Economics to know that many Australians suffer from migraines.

However, if you like figures, the report, as summaried by Headache Australia, details that in 2018, 4.9 million Australians were suffering from migraine, with 71% of them being women, of whom most are of working age.

Working in the field of neurophysiotherapy means I work with many patients suffering migraine, which keeps me alert to new treatments and breakthroughs.

The latest, an article in the Guardian, Can migraines be untangled by new medical thinking?, contains some important insights and information about new treatments that I wanted to share with you.

The article delves into the work of Dr Peter Goadsby who has just shared the Brain Prize with a Swedish physician named Lars Edvinsson, and two others, for their work in illuminating the cause of migraine and, hence, the insights for treatment.

Before these two physicians met, the conventional thinking about migraines was that they were vascular in origin, related to blood flow within the brain, as opposed to being neurological.

Goadsby and Edvinsson’s Brain Prize stemmed from their insight that migraine’s arise from a biological mechanism; blood vessels around the brain open up, causing pain.

The mechanism behind this related to a molecule that helps neurons communite in the brain, called “calcitonin gene-related peptide”, or CGRP.

Trials with willing patients have led to a new type of drug that stops this molecule (CGRP) from getting to its receptor, and therefore stopping the painful opening up of blood vessels.

Stopping migraines through science

Throughout my career, working with the vestibular system, I have marvelled at the ongoing series of insights and developments that have arisen, as the discipline of science and research continues its curiosity-driven march.

This behind-the-scenes story about Dr Peter Goadsby is inspiring, not just for the scientific leaps, but also for his observations about how all of us tend to accommodate our various conditions, when there’s no obvious signposts pointing to cure.

A particularly profound point made by Dr Goadsby was in reaction to journalist, Eva Wiseman. The Dr asked Eva, who has suffered migraines since she was a child, how much she knew about the condition and she responded that she was vaguely aware it was related to blood vessels or chocolate and she had become so accustomed to breathing through headaches she was able to take labour pains in her stride; they were reassuringly familiar.

“Everything you’ve said so far,” he replied, “is unfortunately a very common experience. And that’s what is extraordinary to me. I mean, it’s extraordinary, isn’t it? That you, who seem like not a completely crazy person at all,” thank you, “have managed to go through life not really being focused on that pain. People accept their own normality, is my conclusion.”

Sadly, this acclimatisation to our chronic conditions can delay us seeking help; it’s something I encounter a lot with my dizziness and balance disorder patients, and it’s very common with migraine sufferers.

Apart from encouraging you to read the Guardian article, I would like you to reflect on symptoms you live with, in a new light. If you suffer neck sorness, brain fog, mood changes, fatigue, or even the craving of sweet things, these can all be the hallmarks of migraine. Hopefully, the work that led to the awarding of the Brain Prize this year, will give you hope to seek some help and ask your pratitioner to incorporate these latest findings and drugs into your treatment.