COVID’s Impact on migraine

by Lindsay Videnieks, JD, The Headache and Migraine Policy Forum (HMPF) and Katie M. Golden, Professional Patient

As vaccine roll-out continues, the world can finally begin to see light at the end of the COVID tunnel. But even as the pandemic wanes, we are just beginning to grasp its lasting impact on patient health, especially for those with chronic issues and our health care system at large.

COVID’s impact on care

While the struggles of living with migraine may have prepared some people for the challenges of COVID, for most, the pandemic worsened their physical and mental health.

In October 2020, a joint survey was published by the Headache and Migraine Policy Forum (HMPF) and Migraine Again to uncover how the pandemic is affecting those living with migraine.

Key findings showed:

  • 84% experienced more stress managing their disease
  • 69% saw a monthly increase in attacks
    7% experienced worsening of their overall health

COVID and telehealth

Many people with chronic health issues struggle to access care, whether because of difficulty driving or a lack of specialists in their area.

One silver lining to the pandemic was the rapid adoption of telemedicine. According to the same survey:

  • 79% of patients used telemedicine after the start of the pandemic
  • 66% agreed telemedicine allowed them to keep a medical appointment they would have otherwise canceled because of COVID-19.

Fortunately, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services made permanent policy changes in support of continued telehealth access, including easing in-state licensure requirements and reimbursing for telehealth services at in-person rates.

Of course, while helpful, telehealth is not a panacea. Office visits are still needed for many living with migraine: nerve blocks, neurotoxin injections, and infusions can only be administered in-person.

Accessibility at work

At the same time as the health care system moved to adopt telehealth, workplaces across the country began to embrace telework.

While exciting on many levels, the relaxed approach came as frustrating to many people with chronic health issues, who had long requested similar accommodations yet were refused.

Accommodations are vitally important to keeping people with disabilities in the workforce. According to the survey, only one-third of respondents with migraine are able to work full-time.

COVID long-haulers

“Long-haulers” is the term used to describe the estimated 10% of people who experience lingering COVID symptoms after the active infection has cleared. Some of the most common symptoms are headache, fatigue, and brain fog—all too familiar for people with migraine.

This new patient population and the unique challenges they face will only underscore the need to continually improve care for chronic health issues—long after the pandemic ends. •