Education the key to overcoming migraine challenges during COVID-19
The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted the lives of people around the world, with no exception for migraine patients. During the early stages of the pandemic-related restrictions, the European Migraine & Headache Alliance (EMHA) recognised that COVID-19 presented a unique and pressing challenge for migraine sufferers.
The EMHA responded by launching a series of online talks to support migraine sufferers with recommendations to better manage their disease alongside the hashtag #TakeCareAtHome. Supported by an educational grant from Lilly and running from May until December, the 'EMHA Together Talks' series featured 20 live webinars in different languages. They were led by local patient organizations with the participation of a neurologist who discussed the impact of COVID-19 on migraine and addressed questions from patients.
Migraine is one of the most common neurological diseases in the world and in Europe it affects more than 11% of the general population. 1 For those living with it, migraine can be highly disabling with a heavy impact on their quality of life, both during and between attacks. Yet, almost 70% of sufferers do not seek medical advice for their symptoms. 2 The roots of this lie mainly in a lack of understanding throughout society about the reality of the condition, a gap in education about migraine, and limited accessibility to appropriate care.
The webinar series generated interest and engagement among people with migraine across Europe, with various patient associations reporting that it was beneficial for their members to have the opportunity to interact with leading experts.
Una Farrell, Communications Manager at the Migraine Trust, the UK based patient association, found value in the access to expert advice, stating:
It was extremely valuable to bring together the world’s leading expert on migraine and people with migraine to discuss COVID-19 and migraine. The issues that most people were concerned about was long COVID and migraine, and how to access specialist care when the healthcare system had changed so much because of the pandemic. The expert gave important insights into what is currently known about migraine and COVID-19, and useful advice on managing migraine during the pandemic.
The reaction from Isabel Colomina, President of AEMICE (Spanish Association of Migraine and Headache) was equally positive, with the focus in that session being on whether migraine exacerbates other conditions:
This was a great opportunity to talk about migraine, so people who suffer from this disease could share their concerns and find answers to many of the problems they face on a daily basis. The most interesting questions concerned the relationship between migraine and other conditions such as stroke and Alzheimer’s, and whether migraine sufferers are at greater risk of these.
Isabel noted that following the webinar, it is clear that migraine is a very common disease in Spanish society: “It is a disease that raises doubts, causes desperation and requires answers.”
“EMHA considers this project as one of the most successful of the year 2020,” said Elena Ruiz de la Torre, Executive Director of EMHA. Many EMHA members recognized that their National TALK, in their own language with their local specialist, was the highlight of 2020 as they received many questions from affected people who didn’t know how to access a practitioner during the lockdown.
Elena also noted that “this activity was addressed to EMHA members and it was of a great help to individuals with Migraine and we would like to thank Lilly Foundation for its support.”
As many migraine patients continue to question their condition and look for solutions to their pain, initiatives like EMHA Together Talks remain critically important tools to spread knowledge and provide answers, and to give a voice to people with migraine.
Policies supporting patients across Europe must also contribute to improve public awareness and disease education, and can make a positive contribution in other ways, such as supporting tele-health solutions. Migraine needs to be made more visible to be acknowledged, respected and prioritized by society, employers, families and governments.
Yohannes W. Woldeamanuel, Robert P. Cowan, Journal of the Neurological Sciences 372 (2017) 307–315
Diamond, Journal of Women’s Health. 2007b; 16:9 1269-1280
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