Presidential Candidate's Disclosure of Migraine Helps Increase Awareness

Kate H. Gamble
Published Online: Friday, July 22, 2011
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United States Representative and presidential candidate Michele Bachmann’s public disclosure of her migraine condition has brought much-needed awareness to the disabling, often-stigmatized disorder that affects millions of Americans, according to Robert Shapiro, MD, PhD, professor of neurology at the University of Vermont.

Shapiro, who also directs the Headache Clinic at Fletcher Allen Health Care, serves as president of the board of directors of the Alliance for Headache Disorders Advocacy and suffers from migraine himself, said that this year, nearly 1 in 5 Americans will experience some form of migraine attack, and 1 in 25 will have headaches lasting at least 15 days per month. A disorder marked by disabling attacks of severe one-sided, throbbing headaches, sensitivity to light and sound, migraine is often accompanied by nasal congestion, cloudy thinking, or nausea.

“Available migraine therapies are few in number and often limited in effectiveness and tolerability,” Shapiro said in a Newswise article. “Over the past 49 years, only one innovative drug, discovered and developed specifically for migraine treatment and given priority review by the FDA, has been approved for clinical use.”

Despite the fact that migraine is responsible for more lost years of healthy life among US patients than multiple sclerosis, epilepsy, ovarian cancer, and tuberculosis combined, these disorders received more than 45 times more research funding from the National Institutes of Health than migraine in 2010.

“There's no question that there is a very significant stigma related to migraine," Dr. Shapiro told Medscape Today.

The main reason for this, he noted, as that many simply don't believe that migraines are any worse than average headaches.

"Because headache is a nearly universal experience, many people infer that the experience of migraine is perhaps just as mild and tolerable as what they've experienced, and there are no distinctive physical findings among migraine sufferers to reflect otherwise," Dr. Shapiro explained.

"As a consequence, migraine has been interpreted historically more as a character flaw than as the brain disorder that we know it to be, and to make matters worse—it is associated with menstrual cycles, so it tends to be regarded as character flaw related to women," he said.

Bachmann is not the only public figure known to suffer from migraine. Several distinguished US presidents, including Ulysses Grant and possibly Thomas Jefferson, experienced severe migraine attacks during their terms in office.

She is also not the only current public figure to discuss having migraines, as Dwyane Wade, a guard on the Miami Heat, and Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Percy Harvin have also helped propel migraine into the spotlight.

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