News & Research

Migraine Research Excitement (With Reservations)

“This is potentially a very big deal,” I wrote about the study linking seizures and migraine in the brain. To be absolutely clear: this study’s findings could also be nothing at all. In science, a single study doesn’t prove anything other than the topic might be worth further investigation. Whether or not this particular study turns out to be pivotal research remains to be seen.

What I’m excited about is all the different ways scientists are looking at migraine. Important discoveries are announced frequently. Researchers are making connections that further the understanding of what’s happening in the brains of people with migraine, which will ultimately lead to more effective treatment.

I’m excited to see the discoveries as scientists look at migraine in new ways, but migraine research is still woefully underfunded. Part of the reason this research linking seizures and migraine caught my attention is the possibility of migraine being linked to a disease that’s perceived as real and life-changing. Seizure disorders are still stigmatized, but at least people get that they’re a brain disorder. Wouldn’t it be great if more people understood that migraine is, too? Not just for patients facing the stigma in their everyday lives, but the influence it could have on how research funding is allocated.

Migraine knowledge is fuller than it was when I began writing about it almost10 years(!) ago. I’m still hopeful about the future, but we’re taking baby steps when we could be making strides.

News & Research

Seizures, Migraine Linked in Brain, Research Finds

Seizures and migraine may be linked in the brain, according to new findings from Penn State researchers. This is potentially a very big deal and could have wide-ranging implications. I had to share the information with you, but my brain fog is too heavy to be able to explain it.

For details, take a look at the press release on the research: Link Seen Between Seizures and Migraines in the Brain. It’s scientific, but not entirely technical. I can understand it through brain fog, but can’t describe it. Popular news media will probably cover the story, so more accessible explanations should be forthcoming soon. I’ll take a stab at it when I can.

News & Research, Treatment

Stem Cells for Headache, Migraine

Could stem cells reduce migraine or headache frequency and severity? Anecdotes and at least one study indicate they could be useful for migraine. They’ve also been studied for traumatic brain injury and trigeminal pain, according to James from Headache and Migraine News. Stem cells are used for a variety of inflammatory conditions, so their potential efficacy for migraine and headache is not unexpected.

Headache specialist Dr. Alexander Mauskop wrote about stem cells form migraine and headache last week, which is the first time I’d heard of the connection. He describes the research and why stem cells might be beneficial in an accessible and succinct way — far better than I possibly could. Read Stem Cells for Headache for the details.

Early stem cell research was done with cells from aborted fetuses, so it was highly controversial. Fortunately, stem cells can come from many different sources, including a patient’s own fat. Research into stem cells for a variety of conditions is exploding — I’m happy to see migraine and headache getting some attention.

Stem cells are definitely an interesting topic for research to explore, but this treatment is nowhere close to ready for widespread use. (I add that caveat because some companies who provide stem cell therapy do promote its use for migraine and headache.)

Meds & Supplements, News & Research, Treatment

Hormonal Birth Control for Menstrual Migraine & Insurance Denials

Despite the Affordable Care Act’s required coverage of birth control, some insurers are denying coverage of the birth control patch or NuvaRing, NPR reports. There are a few exceptions to the rule, but nearly all health plans are required to cover all FDA-approved birth control. If you have been denied coverage, NPR recommends appealing the denial and contacting your state insurance board.

How is this relevant to headache/migraine/chronic illness? Hormonal birth control is one method of managing menstrually associated migraine attacks, which tend to be more severe than the migraines a woman has other times of the month. The patch and the ring provide a steadier dose of hormones than a pill does, which makes them more effective for this purpose.

I’ve been using NuvaRing continuously (with one-week breaks every three or four months) since January 2010 and it has been tremendously helpful. Now, the most severe migraines I get happen the few times a year I have to stop the ring for a withdrawal bleed. (You can learn more about skipping periods on The Well-Timed Period.)

This method is generally not recommended for women who have migraine with aura, who are at greater risk of stroke if they use hormonal birth control. However, I recommend talking it over with your headache specialist to decide if it is a good option for you, whether you have migraine with or without aura. Given the frequency and severity of my migraines, my headache specialist said he’d advise me to continue using the NuvaRing even if I did have migraine with aura.

(If you don’t want to/can’t use hormonal birth control for some reason, triptans can be used to prevent menstrual migraine attacks.)

I always love to read your comments, but I’m on vacation and won’t be able to reply until the week of Sept. 8. Please don’t think I’m ignoring you!

Mental Health, News & Research

Migraine and Depression: Disturbing Research Findings

The link between migraine and depression is pretty well established, but some research findings are still disturbing. Such is the case for a large-scale study published in the journal Depression Treatment and Researcher in November 2013. The study, which included 67,000 Canadians, more than 6,000 of whom have migraine, found that depression and suicidal ideation were much higher among migraineurs than non-migraineurs.

A glance at the findings:

  • 8.4% of men with migraine were depressed at the time of the study, while only 3.4% of those without migraine were.
  • 12.4% of women with migraine were depressed, while 5.7% without migraine were.
  • Both men and women with migraine were more likely to have ever considered suicide seriously than those without migraine.
  • 15.6% of men with migraine had considered suicide serious versus 7.9% of men without migraine.
  • 17.6% of women with migraine had considered suicide serious versus¬†9.1% of women without migraine.
  • Migraineurs, male and female, younger than 30 had a six times higher risk of depression and four times higher odds of suicidal ideation than those 65 and older.
  • Suicidal ideation among those with migraine was also higher in those who were unmarried, had lower household income and/or greater physical limitations.

Reference: Fuller-Thomson, E., Schrumm, M., & Brennenstuhl, S. (2013). Migraine and despair: factors associated with depression and suicidal ideation among Canadian migraineurs in a population-based study. Depression research and treatment, 2013. (The full text of the article is available for free.)