Race, Socioeconomics: Barriers to Migraine Care

Frieda Wiley

May 17, 2021

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. 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.

According to lead author Dawn C. Buse, PhD, of the department of neurology at Albert Einstein College of Medicine, New York, acute medication overuse provides an important modifiable target for intervention and recommends that clinicians use the opportunity to optimize migraine care by reducing the patients' reliance on acute therapies. Taking such initiatives to decrease medication overuse is especially important in communities of color, who are more likely to overuse medications for migraines.

Patients with higher income levels were more likely to overcome each barrier. People of African, African American, or multiracial descent were more prone to overuse of medications to manage their migraines.

Of the 489,537 respondents invited to participate in the CaMEO study, 16,879 qualified for inclusion. Slightly more than half of the respondents (n = 9,184 [54.7%]) had a migraine-related disability (MIDAS) score of 6 or greater – an indicator of disability that is least mild in nature. Most patients who had episodic migraines or chronic migraines (86.2%) had some form of health insurance coverage (n = 9.184; 84.1%; P = .048). Of those patients who were insured, 7,930 patients experienced episodic migraine (86.3%) and the remainder had chronic migraine (n = 1,254; 13.7%). Higher-income patients were more likely to traverse barriers to care. While patients of African descent had higher consultation rates, they also had higher rates of acute medication overuse.

Patients with chronic migraine were more likely to be older than patients with episodic migraine (41.0 vs. 39.6 years; P = .0001) and female (83.0% vs. 79.0%; P = .001), and White (84.5% vs. 79.1%; P < .001). Similarly, patients with chronic migraine were more likely to have a higher mean body mass index (29.8 kg/m2 vs. 28.9 kg/m2; P < .001) and lower rates of full- or part-time employment (56.8% vs. 67.1%; P < .001), and were less likely to have a 4-year degree (64.8 vs. 55.6; P < .001) and annual household incomes below $75,000 (72.6% vs. 64.6%; P < .001). Approximately three-quarters of the patients with episodic migraine (75.7%; 1655/2187) and one-third of patients with chronic migraine (32.8%; 168/512) received accurate diagnoses.

The data uncovered an association with acute medication overuse. Among current consulters who had received an accurate diagnosis and minimally adequate treatment, medication overuse rates were highest among those reporting two or more races (53%) and Blacks and African Americans (45%) and lowest among Whites (33%) and those categorized as "other" race (32%). Ethnic and cultural differences in headache literacy may contribute to differences in medication overuse.

Strategies to Improve Outcomes

Both Buse and McAllister see the value advocacy and education offer in helping to improve outcomes in marginalized communities and other groups negatively impacted by various barriers.

"Patient advocacy and outreach are key here, especially in those traditionally underrepresented in the migraine space, such as men, people of color, blue-collar workers, etc.," McAllister noted.

Buse emphasized the importance of education for patients and health care professionals alike. "A large percentage of people who meet criteria for migraine in the U.S. do not seek care or possibly even know that they have migraines," Buse said. "This finding underscores the importance of public health education about migraine as well as well as providing migraine support, education, and resources to health care professionals on the front lines."

Other strategies recommended by Buse to ease the impact of barriers include encouraging patient discussion, setting up time for follow-up appointments and education, referring patients for neurological and other specialty consults when warranted, reviewing essential lifestyle habits for migraine management, and creating personalized, mutually agreed-upon treatment plans.

Buse has received support and honoraria from AbbVie, Amgen, Avanir, Biohaven, Eli Lilly, and Promius.

This article originally appeared on MDedge.com, part of the Medscape Professional Network.


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