In response to complaints about the women and shopping ad, Excedrin Migraine has replaced that “fact” on Migraine.com. The new ad says “70% to 80% of people who get migraines have a family history of the disorder.” Thanks for all your comments. Please stop by Excedrin Migraine’s Facebook and Twitter pages to thank them.
Two-thirds of women would give up shopping at their favorite store for a year to stop their migraine attacks. Excedrin Migraine has launched an advertising campaign with this so-called fact. Seriously? The willingness to give up shopping at a single store exemplifies the impact of migraine a person’s life? Could they have trivialized migraine or women more?
Here are some real statistics from the World Health Organization:
- People with migraine or severe headaches are three times as likely to be depressed than those without. (Whether or not they are clinically depressed, migraineurs are three times more likely to attempt suicide than people without migraine, according to a non-WHO study)
- WHO classifies severe, continuous migraine to be as disabling as dementia, quadriplegia and terminal stage cancer (PDF).
- At least 50% of people with migraine are undiagnosed and undertreated (PDF) and less than half of migraineurs see a doctor for their “headaches.”
- An estimated 113 million work days and more than $13 billion are lost to migraine in the US each year. In the European Union, approximately 190 million work days are lost to migraine every year (PDF).
Daily, migraineurs struggle against the misconception that migraine is “just a headache,” with families and employers who don’t believe or understand how ill they truly are. Advocates have begged Congress and the FDA to notice how debilitating and woefully underfunded this illness is. The last thing we need is an advertising campaign that diminishes the seriousness of migraine and the women who experience it.
The “fact” about shopping and migraine prickles another nerve by asking what someone would give up to eliminate migraines. For a year, I would live in a cave with no human contact, surviving on rats and cockroaches as my only food source. And, yes, I am completely serious, provided that I have fire to cook the rats. Unfortunately, migraine isn’t a game where you can choose your terms; treating it as one only increases the desperation and lack of control that someone this sick already feels.
If you are as horrified by Excedrin Migraine minimizing migraine and treating women as a superficial, please express your outrage on Excedrin’s Twitter and Facebook pages. A consumer boycott of the magnitude I’m likely to launch from The Daily Headache won’t have much of an impact on such large product, but commenting through social media will at least get their attention. As soon as I finish this blog post, that’s where I’m headed. And I still recommend voting with your pocketbook by buying a generic version or mixing your own (250 mg acetaminophen, 250 mg aspirin and 65 mg caffeine).
My response to Painkillers, Caffeine May Cause Liver Damage, a post on Somebody Heal Me, was much stronger than “Oh darn.”
[P]reliminary research indicates that people who take in large quantities of painkillers containing acetaminophen [Tylenol] and ingest large amounts of caffeinated beverages may be at increased risk for liver damage. Migraine medications that intentionally mix acetaminophen and caffeine are also suspected of increasing the risk of liver damage when taken in large quantities. This would include over the counter medications such as Excedrin and prescription medications such as Fioricet. The danger is similar to that of consuming alcohol and acetaminophen, which scientists have warned about for many years.
Knowing how effective acetaminophen and caffeine are for many people with headache, the research deserves consideration. I’m especially interested what role drinking caffeine (or eating caffeinated doughnuts) may play.
Caveat: This study used very high doses of both caffeine and acetaminophen. Still, the potential toxicity of acetaminophen — with or without caffeine — should not be overlooked. Overdoses of products containing acetaminophen account for 40 to 50% of all acute liver failure cases each year in the United States. If you ever take acetaminophen, please read Toxicity and Tylenol to understand the dangers.
The media have paid little attention to headaches during this year’s National Headache Awareness Week, which ends tomorrow. Everything I’ve seen is a variation on the National Headache Foundation’s 12 tips press release. Scrounging around for coverage, I found a couple interesting things.
First, there are a gazillion health-related awareness days/weeks/months. With all of them competing for attention, it’s not surprising that only the most well-recognized illnesses are covered. Doesn’t do much for awareness, does it?
Second, in 2000 Bristol-Myers Squibb released “a timeline of the false starts, red herrings and ahead-of-their-time discoveries that have led to today’s highly effective and accessible migraine therapies,” according to a press release from the company. Highly effective and accessible? Yeah, right!
But that’s beside the point; some of the historical information is interesting. Just remember that it was issued by a major player in the pharmaceutical industry. Specifically, the company that makes Excedrin Migraine. You’ll see what I mean.
‘Milestones in Migraine Management’ Introduced During National Headache Awareness Week
In ancient civilizations, headaches were believed to be caused by evil spirits who inhabited the head. The spirits were chased away with prayer or the application of some unpleasant substance, such as goat dung. Severe headache was sometimes treated by trepanning — boring a hole into the skull to release the evil inhabitant.
Incredibly, this unscientific notion of pain being “all in your head” persisted all the way into the late 20th century. Migraine was largely thought to be psychosomatic; sufferers were told to relax and sent to therapists and hypnotists. Thankfully, contemporary research has revealed precise physical events that bring about migraine pain, legitimizing the condition and providing long overdue relief.
500 B.C. Hippocratic “Humors”
Hippocrates asserted that headaches could be traced to “humors” (fluids or vapors circulating in the body). To release the humors, he recommended bleeding and the application of herbs to the head.
100 A.D. Migraine Gets its Name
The Roman physician Galen described and named the one-sided headaches characteristic of migraine. His term “hemicrania” eventually evolved into our familiar word “migraine.” Treatment with “liver pills” becomes popular and remains so all the way into the 20th century.
1600’s: Swelled Heads
English physician Thomas Willis suggested that the pain of “megrim,” or migraine, was caused by swelling of blood vessels in the head … an astonishingly accurate theory that was not scientifically confirmed until the 1940’s by Dr. Harold Wolff.
1920’s: Gotta Get Ergotamines
Ergot extracts — a product of moldy bread — had been used to treat headaches since the late 19th century. In 1918, they were synthesized into ergotamine tartrate, a vasoconstrictive treatment initially used to control bleeding after childbirth. In the 20’s, however, ergotamines became the first pharmacological treatment for migraines.
1950’s: Suddenly Seratonin
Scientists first began to uncover the true nature of migraines in the 1950’s, when it was proposed that migraine attacks might be associated with abnormalities of the neurotransmitter seratonin. Methysergide was developed to act on what was incorrectly thought to be one, simple seratonin system in the brain. The success of this drug in alleviating migraine provided the first proof that the condition might be more physical than psychosomatic.
As research into the seratonin system progressed, it was thought that there may be as many as six different neurotransmitters involved in the production of a migraine, prompting some physicians to prescribe three or four drugs simultaneously.
1970’s: The Holistic Approach
Perhaps as a backlash to the overmedicated 1960’s, the 1970’s brought on a wave of holistic approaches to migraine management: stress reduction, relaxation, meditation, yoga, herbal remedies, acupuncture and various self-help methods using the will or the mind, aided by the newly developed techniques of bio-feedback.
1980’s: Progress in Isolating the Cause of Migraine
Scientists finally fully charted the complicated system of neurotransmitters and seratonin receptors, identifying one of them — 5-HT1 — as the primary receptor responsible for migraine pain. This important discovery led to the development of an agent called sumatriptan, which had its first highly successful trials in 1988, and paved the way for effective migraine treatments in the 1990s.
1990’s: From Doctor’s Office to Drugstore Shelf
OTC Pain Relief … and a Superbowl Stunner
For the first time, the FDA approves a non-prescription medication for relief of migraine pain: Excedrin Migraine. Finally, a quick trip to the corner drugstore can provide migraine pain relief. That same month, Denver Broncos star running back Terrell Davis is forced to leave Superbowl XXXII due to a migraine, opening many people’s eyes to the seriousness of the condition.
October 1999: OTC Rivals Rx
Another “first” as the FDA grants an OTC treatment the same indication as prescription drugs. Excedrin Migraine received an expanded indication to include the full migraine syndrome: pain plus associated symptoms of nausea, sensitivity to light and sound, and difficulty performing everyday activities.
May 2000: New Migraine Guidelines
The U.S. Headache Consortium issues new Migraine Treatment Guidelines, intended to help doctors diagnose and treat tension and migraine headaches. For the first time, an OTC treatment, Excedrin Migraine, is recognized as a first-line therapy for migraine headache.
Hmm… Why do most people think a migraine is “just a headache” that an OTC painkiller will wipe out? And just how many of these so-called awareness weeks were developed for advertising purposes?
It’s good that National Headache Awareness Week is now orchestrated by the National Headache Foundation, an organization that seeks to “gain recognition of headache pain as a real and legitimate neurobiological condition.” And they are doing a good job. The program seems to build more steam each year. Although there hasn’t been much media coverage, headache education sessions were hosted around the US this week.