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by Amanda Conschafter, blog editor

During today’s annual Headache on the Hill event, patients, physicians and advocates from the Alliance for Headache Disorders Advocacy will once again brief members of Congress on the impact of headache – and how better funding, more research and improved access to treatments could mitigate the conditions’ impact on patients.

Headache disorders affect an estimated 90 percent of Americans, while migraine plagues 36 million Americans each year. Cluster headaches, characterized by their severe pain, are now as prevalent as multiple sclerosis.

And the disorders’ impact falls disproportionately on certain populations. Women account for 75 percent of patients with migraine; they are two to three times more likely to experience migraines than men are. Patients who have served in the United States military also experience headache disorders disproportionately, particularly if they have a concussive injury during deployment. Nineteen percent of Iraq war veterans suffer migraines.

Yet despite headache disorders’ scope, they receive minimal attention from Congress and the National Institutes of Health (NIH). No congressional committee has ever held a public hearing on headache disorders, and NIH has largely overlooked the conditions for research funding. Less then .05 percent of the NIH budget goes to headache research.

The oversight can have far-reaching implications. In response to the NIH’s decision not to prioritize headache disorders, scientists sometimes opt for other research areas. As a result, patients can face a dearth of new treatment options for these debilitating conditions.

In addition to lost opportunities and unnecessary pain for patients, lack of research and corresponding medical advances costs the nation substantially. Headache disorders account for nine percent of lost labor productivity in the United States, and the yearly direct and indirect costs of headaches total $31 billion.

The patients and health care providers participating in Headache on the Hill hope to move toward more options for headache patients. By refocus research and funding, congressional leaders and the NIH can better address both the impact of these disorders and the needs of patients who suffer from them.

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