Literature Review

Race, ethnicity, and socioeconomics are often barriers to migraine care



Race and socioeconomic status can hinder and delay patient access to migraine treatment and result in poorer outcomes, according to a study published in the April issue of Headache. People of African descent and Latinx ethnicity tend to fare worse than other people of color and their White counterparts.

“It should be shocking to neurologists and other clinicians who care for migraine patients how few are able to successfully traverse the barriers to achieve an accurate diagnosis and proper, evidence-based, acute and preventative treatment,” commented Peter McAllister, MD, medical director at the New England Institute for Neurology and Headache and chief medical officer for clinical research at Ki Clinical Research in Stamford, Conn. Dr. McAllister was not involved in this study.

Assessing barriers to care

Researchers designed the study with the primary objective of estimating the number of patients with migraines with unmet clinical needs and who were impacted by four preidentified barriers to care. To evaluate their objective, researchers conducted a longitudinal, Internet-based survey known as the Chronic Migraine Epidemiology and Outcomes (CaMEO) study. They collected data over 1 year examining a cohort of patients that mimicked the diverse demographics of the U.S. population. Researchers conducted longitudinal assessments every 3 months for 15 months, incorporating cross-sectional analyses that surveyed health care use, family burden, and comorbidities or endophenotypes.

Eligible enrollees were 18 years of age or older.

Researchers identified four barriers that hindered patient outcomes, and they served as the primary outcomes of the studies. They were:

  • Health care provider consultations. Investigators used study participants’ responses to the following question during their interactions with their health care providers to help evaluate the quality of their consultation experience: “What type of doctor is currently managing your headaches?” Researchers included data from patients whose practitioners fit the description of those they deemed best suited to address ongoing headache challenges. These medical professionals included general practitioners, family physicians, internal medicine doctors, nurse practitioners, physician assistants, neurologists, pain specialists, headache specialists, and obstetrician-gynecologists.
  • Diagnosis. Carefully evaluating patients’ responses to a series of questions helped researchers gauge the accuracy of diagnosis. Questions included: “Have you ever been diagnosed by a doctor or other health professional with any of the following types of headaches?” Respondents were also given a list of options that provided additional context around their headaches and were encouraged to select all appropriate responses. The list included a fictional response option of “citrene headache” to determine incorrect responses. For this study, researchers deemed it necessary to recognize a chronic migraine diagnosis to ensure that patients received appropriate treatment.
  • Minimally appropriate pharmacologic treatment. Researchers used the following question to determine whether patients’ chronic migraine and episodic migraine were being managed with the least amount of pharmacological treatment necessary. “Which of these medications (if any) are you currently using (or typically keep on hand) to treat your headaches when you have them?” Researchers defined “minimally appropriate acute pharmacologic treatment” as the use of any prescription nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID), triptan, ergotamine derivative, or isometheptene.
  • Avoidance of medication overuse. The study authors pointed out the sometimes nebulous process of characterizing the appropriate use of preventative medication in patients with episodic migraines as “not straightforward” for some patients because not all patients require preventive treatment. Study participants were required to report having received any form of preventative therapy, defined as pharmacological therapies approved by guidelines and supported by data. Such therapies included various antiseizure medication, antidepressants (for example, doxepin, venlafaxine, duloxetine, amitriptyline, imipramine, nortriptyline, and desvenlafaxine), antihypertensives, and toxin injections. Treatments such as behavioral and neuromodulatory therapies were excluded from the list.


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