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Migraines vs other headaches explained
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Over a billion people each year are affected by migraines1, making it the third most common disease in the world.2
It's estimated that more than 10 million people are impacted by the disease in the UK, with 190,000 people having a migraine attack each day in the UK.1 For those who have never experienced a migraine, it might be hard to imagine how they can bring your entire day to a halt. Yet for many people living with migraines that is the reality. The pain, nausea and sensitivity to light and sound - common symptoms associated with migraines, can make it extremely difficult for sufferers to work or care for family.3
Understanding the science behind migraines vs other headaches can help to differentiate between them and highlight how advances in scientific research are fuelling the development of innovations that may provide additional options for patients.
Migraines vs other headache types
Headaches are classified as pain in the head or face and is often described as a pressure that is throbbing, constant, sharp, or dull.4 Headaches are common and can occur from a variety of causes including head injuries, stress, hormonal influences, and dehydration.5
In contrast, a migraine is a neurovascular disorder6 that can impact the entire body.7 Migraines mainly occur in the head, but can also affect the digestive system, eyes, nose, brain, neck, joints and more.7 The symptoms of a migraine can last for a few hours or three days, and even after the pain subsides, the affected individuals may feel fatigued and not themselves.3
What causes migraines?
It’s still unknown what causes migraines, although scientists and medical professionals believe they are the result of abnormal brain activity, which in turn affects nerve signals, chemicals, and blood vessels in the brain.8 Some patients note the first sign of a migraine as a visual aura, or visual changes, such as vision loss, flashing lights, blind spots or wavy images that are only perceptible to the person with the migraine.3 Although the triggers and experience of migraines vary from person to person, they typically last between four hours and three days.3
Evolution of understanding migraines
Migraines are not a new condition. In fact, Hippocrates described migraine symptoms as early as 400 B.C.,9 and yet, thousands of years on, their pathophysiology is still being researched to better help those living with migraines.
For a long time, doctors believed that the pain and discomfort associated with migraines was caused by contraction of the blood vessels, followed by dilation (widening of the blood vessels).10 The first documented treatment for migraines was in 1925, with a medication designed to narrow the blood vessels.11
“Progress has been made to better understand the causes of migraines in order to help improve care for those affected, but there is still more to be done. Pfizer is committed to advancing our knowledge in this area and will continue to advocate for increased awareness of the debilitating impact migraines can have from a physical, mental and economic perspective"
Impact on society and employment
A 2019 study shows that migraines peak at around 40-44 years old,12 when people are typically most active in their careers. Research carried out by the National Migraine Centre suggests that 97% of those affected suffer from migraines during working hours,13 and in separate research was found to be the second highest reason for time off work amongst non manual workers.2
As well as the impact on the individuals, migraines affect the economy with research suggesting that the nation could be loosing up to 43 million workdays each year due to those off ill with migraines and reduced productivity, at a cost of between £6-10 billion annually.2 Around 10% of this cost can be attributed to direct healthcare costs, including outpatient care, investigations, medications for migraine attacks, preventative medications and hospitalisations, estimated to total almost £1 billion per year.2
Research suggests that although the disease is common, it is underdiagnosed and undertreated.14 To ensure that the burden of migraines is effectively addressed, patients need timely access to the most appropriate diagnosis and treatment options in addidtion to greater focus and investment in public awareness to better highlight the disease and help improve patient and public welfare. The knock-on effect may be improved economic savings and increased productivity.
Scientific advances lead to innovative migraine management
"There are still further developments to be made to better understand the pathophysiology of migraines. Pfizer will continue to research migraine conditions in order to help raise awareness of the condition and enhance care" says Seema Patel, Pfizer UK Medical Director for Internal Medicine & Hospital.
Despite notable scientific strides in the understanding of migraines, there remains an unmet clinical need. Pfizer remains an avid supporter and advocate for migraine awareness and will continue to do so in order to help improve patient care.