Health Conditions

The National Headache Foundation: Promising Drugs on the Horizon

More than 90 percent of Americans are affected by headache disorders. Whether it’s a migraine, menstrual migraine, depression, or pregnancy, there are many types and causes. The National Headache Foundation aims to advocate, increase awareness, educate, and support research when it comes to headache.

Migraine actually occurs more often in women than in men, with 60 percent of women sufferers relating their attacks to their menstrual cycle, the NHF says. Pregnancy and menopause also affect migraines.

Migraine actually occurs more often in women than in men, with 60 percent of women sufferers relating their attacks to their menstrual cycle, the NHF says.

While there are more treatment options today, headache as a legitimate neurobiological disease is still largely misunderstood. What has the NHF done this past year to change this, and what’s on the horizon? WomensHealth.com spoke with NHF President Vincent Martin, M.D., to find out.

WomensHealth.com: Tell us about 2016. What research or new therapies or drugs should our readers know about?

National Headache Foundation President Vincent Martin: There are some new drugs called Calcitonin Gene Related Peptide (CGRP) Monoclonal Antibodies that are preventive medication for migraine. They are given in shot form every 2 weeks to 3 months and look very promising. Hopefully, they will be available in the next 3 to 4 years.

WH: Healthcare providers and patients are optimistic about CGRPs, which have been called the most exciting development in the field in quite some time. These drugs seem to work faster, for longer, and better than what’s currently available. They even prevent migraines altogether in some patients. If results bear out and CGRPs are successful, research on this class of drug could help other conditions.

NHF Executive Director Mary Franklin: A recent study said that placebo was as effective in children with headache as medications used in adults with headache. Another recent study noted that the risk of stroke was higher post-operatively in patients who had migraine. There’s also evidence that risk of stroke is higher in women with migraine.

WH: What continues to be the biggest challenges to those working in the field of headache? 

NHF: The biggest challenge is the lack of access to therapies for our patients and all the prior authorizations required for migraine medications.  

Healthcare providers and patients are optimistic about CGRPs, which have been called the most exciting development in the field in quite some time. These drugs seem to work faster, for longer, and better than what’s currently available. They even prevent migraines altogether in some patients.

WH: To expand on this, according to the NHF’s website, despite the prevalence of headache disorders, only 416 physicians received sub-specialty certification in headache medicine by the United Council of Neurologic Subspecialties as late as 2014. As the site states, “The vast difference between the number of patients and the number of certified providers makes it difficult for patients to find and be seen by a headache specialist.” Not only is there an inadequate number of qualified providers, the NHF believes that many health care professionals aren’t being properly recognized for their competency in this area.

With this in mind, the NHF has developed a program called The Certificate of Added Qualification (CAQ) in Headache Medicine, which establishes the standards for headache practice and assist patients in locating the right clinicians.

WH: What support is available to individuals and families who are living with headache?

NHF: The National Headache Foundation is the leading resource for information about headache disorders. The NHF also has a certifying exam for health care professionals to recognize their accomplishments in the field of headache. This is a great resource for patients to find an appropriate headache physician and other healthcare providers.

WH: The NHF website says that there are regular webinars, where headache and migraine experts talk about various headache-related topics and answer questions. The webinars are then posted on the NHF’s YouTube channel. There is also a healthcare provider finder. Other tools on the website include diet tips, biofeedback training techniques, and headache tests to help communicate a headache’s severity to the doctor.

WH: What goals does the NHF have for 2017?

NHF: 

  • To advocate for headache patients and their right for appropriate access to care to treat their headache disorders
  • To provide the most up-to-date information regarding headache to our patients
  • To support research that will lead to finding a cure for migraine headache

WH: What areas of research is your foundation excited about for the future?

NHF: We have funded a research project on cluster headache, which is a very severe headache disorder that is quite severe and more common in men. This project may shed light on what causes this dreaded headache disorder.

WH: What would you like female readers to know about the NHF that you haven’t addressed?

NHF: Migraine is a big women’s health topic. It is 3-4 times more common in women than men and virtually every reproductive event in women modifies the frequency of migraine headache (puberty, pregnancy, menopause, etc.). There are many new therapies to relieve suffering of migraine patients. We are a resource for the patients, their families, their health care providers, and the public.

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Lisa A. Goldstein

Lisa A. Goldstein

Lisa A. Goldstein is a freelance journalist with a Master’s in Journalism from UC Berkeley. She has two kids, a love of books and sweets, and wishes her metabolism is what it used to be.

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