Every year, millions of people across the globe suffer from migraines. Unless you or someone you care about has struggled with this pain, you might not realize how incapacitating migraines can be. Many individuals are surprised to learn that migraines are one of the most disabling illnesses in the world. Women in particular are most vulnerable, suffering migraine headaches three times as often as men. Migraines are the fourth highest cause of disability for women. Why women? While the exact cause of migraines is not known, hormones are believed to potentially play a role.
A large percentage of women who suffer from debilitating headaches have chronic migraines, and relief isn’t always possible with home remedies or over-the-counter treatments. As a result, they often schedule frequent doctor appointments, which can be disruptive to both work schedules and daily life.
This past year, the COVID-19 pandemic has created additional challenges for migraine sufferers. Between capacity restrictions, limited appointments, and hesitation about going to doctor’s offices for treatment due to potential coronavirus exposure, undoubtedly many people have been suffering in silence.
A new option for a way to offer migraine treatment
Fortunately, breakthrough approaches to migraine are becoming possible. For instance, Nurx, a women’s health platform best known for its telemedicine approach of connecting patients with contraceptives and STI testing, is now offering women video migraine consultations. Nurx’s program simplifies women’s access to migraine treatment. With this program, women can receive video consultations, obtain an individualized migraine treatment management plan, gain access to online medical consults, receive video exams which include cognitive tests, treatment plan and track and have check-ins with a healthcare provider.
Providers can also prescribe medications as a part of the enrollment fee, but the medications themselves are not covered. Nurx states it will work with insurance companies to help patients get their medications and uninsured consumers will receive a list of medication prices upfront so they know what to expect.
While this isn’t the only option, it’s a great one for women who suffer daily from migraines. It can help them find the best treatment options and create a management plan.
Benefits of telemedicine for migraine sufferers
Telemedicine programs widely expand healthcare access for people with limited options. The year 2020 presented many challenges due to the pandemic, however it has been clearly demonstrated healthcare providers can offer innovative and unconventional ways to treat patients when the need arises. Going forward beyond the pandemic, many people can continue to benefit from the meaningful solutions telemedicine can offer. This can prove to be a huge step forward for people suffering from chronic headaches.
Aside from the pandemic and disruption of having to go to the doctor, sitting in a waiting room with bright lights and noisy activity is painful when a headache is occurring or feelings of nausea persist, even in “normal” pre-pandemic times. Driving to the doctor while in the midst of a headache episode could also be dangerous because symptoms could lead to decreased attention or result in other impairments that negatively impact driving.
Increased telemedicine options would eliminate many of the challenges women – and men – face when coping with severe headaches.
Limitations of telemedicine for migraine sufferers
While there are many benefits to telemedicine, there are some things that are more difficult. Injections like Botox and nerve blocks can’t be done; IV infusions also can’t be given. Your provider can examine some parts of you but not all parts, so depending on your specific issues you may have to be examined in person.
Does telemedicine work for migraine patients?
The idea of telemedicine for migraine makes sense. But is it as good as the traditional, in-person visit for migraine? The answer appears to be yes. In a stroke of luck, a telemedicine study on migraine was published in 2019, just months before the COVID pandemic struck. In this study patients came in person for their first visit. Afterwards, they were divided at random into two groups: one group had their follow-ups in person, and another group had their follow-ups by telemedicine. After 1 year, headaches for both groups improved equally. This small study suggests that telemedicine and in-person follow-up visits both work for migraines! [REFERENCE: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31450969/ Friedman et al. A randomized trial of telemedicine for migraine management. Cephalalgia. 2019 39(12):1577-1585.]
Better treatments for headaches are urgently needed
Migraines are far too common to ignore. An attack can last anywhere from hours to 3 days. You can imagine how disruptive this is to people who suffer from these headaches. Historically, many patients have had their pain dismissed, underestimated, under-recognized, or under-treated. This can be attributed to the fact many healthcare providers are not knowledgeable enough about headache disorders. Globally, on average, just a mere four hours of undergraduate medical education instruction is focused on headache disorders, according to the World Health Organization.
Now, with the expansion of telemedicine programs to specifically focus on headaches, people prone to severe or recurring headaches can now seek alternative solutions to deal with chronic pain. While telemedicine is a good start, much more needs to be done to help the millions of people who struggle daily with migraine pain or the stress of not knowing when the next severe headache will flare. Headaches often fall low on the priority list for funding because they aren’t fatal, and pharmaceutical companies don’t prioritize them because treatments for other illnesses and diseases take precedence. Much needs to be learned about the root cause of migraines, and more importantly, to find a cure.
The Will Erwin Headache Research Center is dedicated to the study and treatment of migraines, cluster headaches, and other forms of head pain. To contribute to our dedicated work to help people struggling with chronic headaches, please consider joining our community and donating to our cause.