Migraine costing European economies an estimated €55bn annually

Last Updated on Friday, 10 November, 2023 at 11:18 am by Andre Camilleri

Yan Grima, General Manager of Vivian Corporation

Only those who suffer from migraines know what a migraine is. However, the exact cause of migraines remains relatively unknown. Today, it is thought to be the result of temporary changes in the chemicals, nerves and blood vessels in the brain. Around half of all people who experience migraines also have a close relative with the condition, which suggests that genes may also be at play.

What we definitely know is that migraine is not just a bad headache but a neurological disorder that affects one billion people, making it one of the most prevalent disorders in the world.

Its burden continues to persist. And despite the approximately 12% of Europeans estimated to be affected by migraine, this debilitating disorder remains largely misunderstood and stigmatised. In fact, it is a condition that many times ends up being undiagnosed, misdiagnosed and dismissed by many as “just a headache”.

Truth be told, migraine is so debilitating that it has become one of the top 10 leading causes of years lived with disability worldwide.

Besides the fact that migraine affects more women than men (one in every five women and around one in every 15 men), some get migraines four to five times a month or more, which deeply impacts their work, personal life and their lifestyle. The pain, which at times can last between four to 72 hours, is of moderate to severe pain intensity and described as “throbbing” and is most times accompanied by disabling symptoms such as nausea, vomiting and sensory disturbances.

Studies also continue to show that there has been little advancement in migraine care throughout the last decade and the needs of the many people who suffer with migraine remain unmet not only because healthcare systems under-diagnose the condition but also because access to optimal care is flawed.

The first major issue surrounding migraine is that there is a lack of general awareness among the public of what migraine really is and as a result, many of those most in need of support are not receiving it.

Migraine sufferers are left to navigate a care pathway fraught with barriers, often striving even to get an accurate diagnosis. Already a decade ago, WHO data had already shown how 60% of people round the world with headache disorders were not properly diagnosed.

A Eurolight survey across 10 European countries, showed that, on average, less than one in five people with migraine saw a family doctor and less than one in 10 saw a specialist (14% and nearly 7%, respectively).

All this evidence offers us unique and relevant insights into the unmet needs of people with migraine and should guide the development of solutions to address those needs and improve care.

Change is in the interest of everyone. Worth mentioning is that migraine, aside from the impact on patients’ lives, is also a significant health-related driver of expenditure, costing European economies an estimated €55bn annually in direct and indirect health care expenses.

A concerted effort with the involvement of all stakeholders would be a good start in a national effort to start narrowing the care gap by making appropriate care accessible and allowing people with the condition a chance of a life free from the burden of migraine.

This change could be made possible if we concentrate on five crucial points of action namely, increasing public understanding and awareness of migraine, enhancing education on migraine for all healthcare professionals, ensuring appropriate funding for, and access to, high-quality migraine care, implementing efficient care pathways to address patient needs in a timely way and by improving work-related outcomes for people with migraine.

A clear care pathway and a strong policy framework could greatly reduce the burden of migraine. Together, the migraine community and policymakers, can learn from real-world evidence, identify opportunities to improve care and work to drive better outcomes for the millions of people living with migraine in Europe.

The chance of a life free from the burden of migraine should be the collective ambition of all policymakers, patients and healthcare professionals, and all stakeholders need to engage in meaningful dialogue to make this a reality.

Migraine is painful enough. Let us direct our efforts towards reducing the painful stigma that surrounds migraine.

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