Luke Fletcher MS is supporting Migraine Awareness Week to call attention to the serious impact that migraine has on people living with this condition and the need for better migraine care.
One in seven adults in the UK experience migraine. Over one million live with chronic migraine, meaning they experience headache for at least 15 days a month for three months at a time.
The impact of migraine goes far beyond pain. A third of callers to The Migraine Trust’s helpline report a decline in mental health due to their migraine. Migraine can affect all areas of life including ability to work and maintain relationships leaving many of those affecting feeling isolated. A survey by The Migraine Trust found 29% of respondents had moved from full-time to part-time work due to their migraine and 25% had left a job as a result of it (rising to a third among those with chronic migraine). 43% felt their workplace had not believed them when they had taken sick leave due to a migraine attack and 34% had felt discriminated against at work.
A new report from The Migraine Trust has also found people with migraine are struggling to access appropriate diagnoses and treatments. Misunderstanding of the condition as ‘just a headache’, lack of specialist care and unequal provision of treatments means many are left struggling alone with debilitating symptoms.
In its report ‘Heading in the wrong direction’, the charity heard from many people who feel health professionals, especially in primary care, do not understand migraine. They report having their pain dismissed, being told nothing can be done for them and waiting years to access treatments. As a result, many are left feeling depressed, frustrated and unable to cope.
Most people who live with migraine should be successfully supported in primary care by their GP, who can diagnose migraine and advise on medication options and lifestyle adaptions, and might also be supported by community pharmacies. However, some will need to be referred to a healthcare professional who specialises in migraine, such as a GP with a Special Interest in Headache, or a neurologist. High numbers of patients reported incorrect referrals, long waiting lists for specialist support or simply that they feel dismissed.
Megan, who lives with vestibular and chronic migraine: “There are just so many barriers to migraine care. I’ve had GPs tell me just take paracetamol, others who don’t seem to understand what migraine is. One time I went to A&E unable to cope with the pain, but I wasn’t triaged and was sent home. At points my migraine has been so bad I’ve been at rock bottom. The head pain can be indescribable, but I also experience dizziness, blurred vision, disequilibrium, vomiting. My symptoms sometimes last weeks, even months. There’s a huge inequity as some people can access migraine treatments like CGRPs [calcitonin gene-related peptide antibodies monoclonal antibodies drugs] and others can’t. Then there’s the cost of things like acupuncture, supplements. Not everyone can afford it.”
Annemarie, who lives with chronic migraine: “Living with migraine is debilitating. It’s incredibly isolating. It took about 9 years to get a diagnosis. I spent years going to the doctor being told it was my mental health, that I was too stressed, to drink more water, to take paracetamol, to lose weight, to take more exercise. It got so bad that sometimes I went in crying. I was referred to ENT, went to the opticians the dentist but it wasn’t until I was finally referred to a head clinic that I was diagnosed with chronic migraine. It was such a long process. I actually cried because finally someone had listened to me.”
Luke Fletcher, Member of the Senedd for South Wales West, said: “Migraine is not being taken seriously as a health condition and those with the condition are clearly being let down. This is why I am calling for greater use in the NHS of tools and pathways that exist for managing the condition, increased education to support health professionals to identify and manage migraine in the right place for patients, and more specialist centres.”
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