New Research Sheds Light on Women & Migraine

When it comes to migraine and headache disorders, women have clear-cut opinions – and distinctly female experiences.  

A new poll from The Headache & Migraine Policy Forum surveyed 340 women from across the United States who experience migraine or encounter it secondhand through loved ones or work colleagues.  The verdict? Migraine ends careers, strains families and shortchanges communities. Yet employers and health plans aren’t doing enough to address it.

The woman responding to the survey overwhelmingly reported that public perceptions of migraine don’t reflect the disease’s severity, agreeing that:

  • Migraine and headache disorders strain relationships and disturb family life (97%)
  • People with migraine are often dismissed as exaggerating their symptoms or not feeling severe pain (93%)
  • People trivialize migraine because it predominantly affects women (82%).

Respondents agreed that health plan design disrupts care, which should be driven by the physician-patient relationship:

  • Physicians and their patients, not health plans, should decide which treatment is used to treat a migraine (97%)
  • By requiring prior authorization or “fail first,” health plans prolong migraine and headache disorder patients’ pain (90%)
  • Health plan designs make it difficult for patients to access treatments that are available (77%).

Responses also suggested that employers aren’t doing right by their staff with migraine and headache disorders.  The women surveyed reported that employers don’t understand the burden of migraine on their employees (94 percent).   Only 39 percent agreed that people with migraine are willing to tell their employer about their condition. Even fewer, 20 percent, said that supervisors respond with “understanding, helpful assistance, or accommodations” when an employee discloses that he or she has migraine.

And when it comes to trends in migraine, women should know.  

A new report from the Society for Women’s Health Research notes “growing evidence that sex influences migraine risk, presentation, diagnosis, treatment, and management.”  For instance, estrogen’s role in migraine makes women inherently more susceptible. But women also respond to migraine differently than men.  They are, for example, more likely to seek treatment from a health care provider. Women experience the disease three times as often as men, a discrepancy that begins at adolescence and continues through adulthood.  

A failure to recognize these differences, the paper argues, can impede education and medical research.  The Society for Women’s Health Research suggests efforts to destigmatize migraine, increase disease awareness and incorporate sex differences in clinical trial study designs and analysis.

To learn more, read “Sex and Gender Differences in Migraine” from the Society for Women’s Health Research and “Women’s Attitudes Toward Migraine” from The Headache & Migraine Policy Forum.

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