Here’s how it goes for me: a few afternoons a year, usually when I haven’t slept or eaten right, but sometimes for no apparent reason, I begin to sense a pressure behind my left eyebrow and to feel queasy. By now I know what’s coming, and I resign myself to another miserable evening and a coming day or two lost to indistinctness. I rush home and secrete myself in the coolest, darkest spot I can find, because for each of my senses the volume seems to have been cranked to amphitheater-level. I lie there for four or five hours, a dog on a leash, thinking grim thoughts and, despite myself, yelping every now and again when the pain ratchets up. Perhaps you know somebody with migraine and are familiar with the vocabulary they use to capture the experience: ‘throbbing’, ‘nauseating’, ‘excruciating’ and the like. All true. Respite comes only when my stomach has had too much and returns my lunch — normally one wants to avoid this outcome, but here I welcome it, court it even, which I’ve always found darkly funny. Then I fall into a dreamless sleep. While some don’t have it as bad as me, many have it far worse.
With the launch of our new migraine headache survey today, we at 23andMe invite you all to share your headache experiences, whether you’re one of the lucky few who’s never had even a little one or someone who must deal with the threat of migraine pain on a daily basis. You needn’t be a 23andMe customer to take the survey (although we recommend it). All you need is a free 23andMe account.
Migraine headaches are nasty things. The common feature is a terrible pulsing pain emanating from inside the skull, usually just on one side, but apart from this everyone experiences them a bit differently. Some unlucky folks get them every day, while others get them just once a year. Migraines can last for a few hours or can pound on for days at a time. Then there is the menagerie of symptoms that can accompany the headaches, including nausea, vomiting, visual or aural illusions, and aversion to light, smell, touch and/or sound. Perhaps most variable across people are the causes of the headache, or triggers. For one person the triggers might be red wine or nuts, for another they might be stress, bright lights, or noise.
There is a wide array of treatment options for migraine. With guidance from their doctors, most migraine sufferers nowadays are able to find partial or full relief from their headaches. Despite the effectiveness of these treatments, the basic biology of the disease is not well-understood1, and migraine continues to exact a tremendous physical and economic toll on our society2.
Two prominent migraine researchers have suggested that the blame for the slow progress in understanding migraine lies with a systemic lack of public funding for migraine research. They argue that the relatively recent, and incomplete, acceptance of migraine by the medical and research communities as a genuine medical problem, as opposed to mere melodrama, has led migraine’s funding to lag well behind that for diseases of similar impact. For example, they estimate that while $13.80 is spent for each sufferer of asthma, just 36 cents of federal research funds are spent per migraine sufferer.
The genetics of migraine are also only partially understood. That’s where our new survey comes in. Our community-based research program 23andWe seeks to empower the public to engage in genetic research from the ground up. We know our efforts cannot substitute for proper federal support of migraine research, but evidence of great public interest, plus a new finding or two, would add to our understanding of the disease and potentially send a message to Washington.
With all haste, then, please head over to the new migraine survey and be counted!
- What is understood of its biology and chemistry is fascinating, and summarized well here.
- Nearly 40 million people in the US, and a similar number in Europe, suffer from migraine, roughly one in every ten people. Migraine occurs in women about three times more commonly than in men. Migraine is estimated to cost around $23BN/year in the US and Euro27BN/year in Europe in direct medical costs and in indirect costs, such as lost productivity.