By Katie Golden
In Junior High, I was obsessed with watching ER. Besides George Clooney being incredibly hot even back then, I always thought hospital life was interesting. Today, I’ve watched Grey’s Anatomy from the beginning, even though they killed off McDreamy.
While not a doctor, I’m no stranger to the hospital. Sometimes I think I even know more than my doctors. I have had episodic migraines since the age of five. Then my episodic migraines became chronic about five years ago. I am never without some level of head pain. Some days are better than others. Some months or even years are better than others. I’ve been managing the best that I can. For me, that includes education. After a few years of walking around like a zombie, I thought I’ve seen everything and tried it all. Yet, I still crave more information.
American Headache Society Conference (AHS)
This year I attended the 58th annual AHS conference in San Diego. I write regularly about my condition and try to report on the newest advancements. The conference is very clinical, showcasing the latest trial data, suggesting new protocol and brainstorming between the leading people in the field of headache medicine. Information is constantly changing as new trials and discoveries occur frequently. The brain is a complex machine. The Holy Grail has still yet to be cracked. Each time I am able to attend such conferences I come out understanding much more about my condition.
My Experience as a Patient at a Doctor’s Conference
I’m not going to lie. There were several seminars that I was extremely excited to sit in on, only to find that the subject matter was way above my head. The amazing part is that I was able to sit down with top doctors in the field and not feel stupid about asking in-depth questions on topics that were foreign to me. Headache Specialists, like celebrities, are normal people who want to have their research heard and give hope to those who suffer. A large majority of them are migraine sufferers themselves.
During breaks presenters and attendees (mostly all in the headache field) scurry to track down a doctor to ask about their thoughts on procedures or the real meaning of study results. Walking through the halls of a hotel, you can hear a healthy exchange of ideas. Having known some of the neurologists for years, they were accessible to me. And seated in a hallway, we’d talk about the use of opioids or medication overuse headache from the patient and the doctor’s perspective. Conversation can breed new ideas and the AHS Conference fosters that type of environment.
My Key Takeaways as a Patient
Of all the topics covered at the AHS Conference, these were the most intriguing as a patient. It made me feel optimistic as a patient.
- CGRP– There are four pharmaceutical companies currently in Phase III trials of an anti-CGRP drug. This new class of drug targets a neuro-peptide that has recently been discovered to cause migraine. Studies are using drugs that target the CGRP peptides to shut-off its receptors, thereby preventing migraine. This would be the very first preventative medication developed specifically for migraine patients. While still 2-5 years away from being on the market, studies are showing great results in the reduction of migraine attacks.
- Neurostimulators– Several external stimulators are gaining traction in use of preventing and aborting migraine attacks. Studies revealed that relief has been found in use of the Cefaly, the Spring TMS and a Vagal Nerve stimulator.
- Migraine: A Family Affair This half-day session covered all aspects of caring for a patient with chronic migraines and the family that supports them. Topics were discussed on how to use cognitive behavioral therapy for teenagers, how to manage a family that has both a parent and a child who suffers from migraine, and how to help the parent plan ahead so that an attack doesn’t completely disrupt the family.
- American Headache and Migraine Association (AHMA)– On Sunday of the conference, AHMA, the patient centered arm of AHS, held an all-day session for families and patients. Doctors presented the newest advances in headache medicine (such as anti-CGRP drugs) while having conversations with patients who question when and how new. A break-out session is also provided for caregivers and spouses. Patient and family day is my favorite part of the conference because I get to interact and meet fellow patients that I have only known previously online.
I’m not a doctor. I wished I played one on TV. But I am a patient seeking to understand why my brain doesn’t always like me. I’ve been through this for a long time. I want to have hope and see that research funds are going toward exciting trials that are currently in the works. I want to be able to tell my fellow migraine patients that new therapies are under development or that I tried a new medication that helped me (or not). Sharing of knowledge is important, especially in the advancement of headache medicine. It was comforting to see so many amazing researchers, clinicians, doctors and even residents speak passionately about working on new research. I’ll let you know next year, what the latest and greatest is in the world of migraine.
If you’re interested in reading more about the topics discussed at the AHS conference, you can view the majority of the reports at the AHS website: https://americanheadachesociety.org/news1/
Katie Golden lives in Southern California. She is a member of the American Headache and Migraine Alliance (AHMA), the National Headache Foundation and the US Pain Foundation and community moderator for Migraine.com.