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9 Surprising Migraine Trends: Tracking Treatment Developments to Improve Your Care

Migraine trends in 2020

About one in seven people suffer from migraines globally. Yet the exact cause of these chronic, often debilitating headaches remains unknown. And though there are many treatments for migraine prevention and pain management, responses and effectiveness can vary between people, and new ideas for treatments and management strategies are constantly arising.

Staying on top of migraine trends related to research, prevention, treatment, and management can help you better understand your illness and surface new prevention and management options that could improve your quality of life. With that in mind, we took a look at some Google Trends charts to see what migraine-related patterns might emerge. While the trends are real, our hypotheses are just that — thoughts on why the trends might have happened. With that in mind, let’s dive in!

Google Trends is a feature that shows how frequently people look up a certain term in Google’s search engine. It’s a simple way to reveal interest in a topic.

Because Google Trends shows relative search volume for each individual term, these charts simply compare the amount of total searches for a given term to its highest-ever and lowest-ever volume to depict its place on the chart at any given point.

Discover 9 fascinating migraine trends

Here are nine interesting migraine search trends, and some ideas on why their peaks and valleys may have occurred.

1. Search Trend 1 – Mindfulness for migraine

Google Trends shows search volume for “mindfulness” on a slow but steady incline over the last five years.

Mindfulness is a well-established strategy for overall health, wellbeing, and stress reduction. And in recent years, mindfulness meditation has shown promise as a specific treatment to help migraineurs reduce the frequency and intensity of migraine attacks.

A 2018 analysis of 11 separate studies found pain intensity was lower for migraine patients practicing mindfulness meditation as part of their treatment. Additionally a 2015 study found that migraine patients who underwent an eight-week Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction program experienced improvements in pain levels and quality of life.

Create a mindfulness meditation practice

To enjoy the benefits of mindfulness in helping you manage migraine pain, you should meditate most days of the week. Here are a few tips to help you get started:

  • Read Wherever You Go, There You Are. Authored by Jon Kabat-Zinn, who developed the first formal Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction program in the US, this book is an excellent introduction to mindfulness meditation.
  • Download a meditation app. There are an abundance of meditation apps, such as Headspace and Calm. They often have a series of free guided meditations as well as subscriptions to access a large meditation library.
  • Make meditation non-negotiable. Healthy habits stick when you make them “musts” of your daily routine.
  • Create a meditation spot. You don’t need a meditation room or any special equipment to get mindful. But it’s helpful to create a peaceful nook for meditation.

2. Search Trend 2 – Tragus and daith piercings for migraines (not recommended)

Google Trends shows declining interest in “ daith piercing” in general over the last five years. Which is what we’d expect to see because the effectiveness of this treatment for migraine was a myth that’s now been busted.

The tragus is the small protrusion on your outer ear close to your cheek and the daith is the innermost fold of your outer ear. Both are notoriously painful to have pierced, but some migraine sufferers contend that temporary pain provides long-term relief. Are they on to something?

The idea is that these piercings apply constant pressure to pressure points thought to help with migraine, typically through acupuncture and massage. But research on the effectiveness of tragus and daith piercing for the treatment of migraine is sparse. In a 2017 case study, one 54-year-old male migraine patient experienced improvements after a daith piercing. We couldn’t find a single evidence-based study on tragus piercings for migraines.

Most of the discussion of the effectiveness of these piercings for migraine exists on social media and is purely anecdotal. Both piercings go through cartilage, which increases the risk of infection compared with classic earlobe piercing. Migraine experts say the risks of daith piercings overshadow any benefits, which are likely short-lived and due to the placebo effect.

3. Search Trend 3 – Green light for migraines

Interest in “green light therapy” has remained steady over the last five years according to Google Trends, except for a jump in the last year as promising new research emerged and a helpful new therapeutic device became available.

Light produces electrical signals in the brain that can cause photophobia (pain related to light), a common symptom of migraine. But not all light waves have the same effect.

Red and blue light waves create intense electrical signals, while a specific, narrow band of green light creates smaller electrical signals in the brain — and less pain. Specialized lights, such as those used in the Allay Lamp, can help people with migraines resume their everyday activities like reading and cooking, even during an attack.

4. Search Trend 4 – SPG blocks and stimulation for migraines

As the FDA has now approved three new devices, searches for this have picked up.

The sphenopalatine ganglion (SPG) is a nerve cluster located behind the nose associated with migraine pain and other headache disorders. The SPG connects to the membranes that cover the brain and the brainstem and the nerve cluster is part of the circuit that transmits pain signals during a migraine attack.

SPG blocks apply anesthesia to the nerve cluster through the nose. The procedure is minimally invasive and the side effects are mild. More recently, a laser probe has been developed to block the nerves.

SPG stimulation is more invasive, involving the surgical implantation of a small neurostimulator near the nerve cluster. The person turns the stimulation on with an external device when feeling the onset of a headache. In a 2017 review of European SPG stimulation research in the journal Headache, two-thirds of study participants responded to the treatment, meaning SPG stimulation ended at least 50 percent of their migraine attacks or decreased attack frequency by 50 percent.

5. Search Trend 5 – Overuse of opioids for migraines

Searches for “opioid ” have created a bit of a hump over the last five years, which is surprising considering the opioid crisis in America.

When researching racial disparities in migraine treatments, a 2017 study out of the University of Michigan instead discovered another disturbing trend: the overuse of opioids for migraines. “We found people were getting prescribed opioids as much as they were getting prescribed medications that are much better for migraines,” said Larry Charleston IV, one of the researchers.

Reviewing the outcomes of 2,860 doctor visits for migraine in the US between 2006 and 2013, the researchers found that 15 to 20 percent of patients received accepted migraine medications, such as triptans. Just under 39 percent of patients received no medication, while 15 percent received an opioid prescription. The researchers said this is an issue because migraine-specific medications are more effective and opioids carry the risk of abuse.

6. Search Trend 6 – Migraines

Since 2015, there has been a slow and steady climb in searches for “ migraine ” and “migraines” on Google Trends.

This gradual upward trend tracks with the increasing time Americans spend on the internet. A Pew Research Center survey found the number of people “almost constantly” online rose 9 percent among 18- to 29-year-olds and 8 percent among 30- to 49-year-olds between 2015 and 2019.

As people spent more time online, those with persistent headaches likely researched “migraine” or “migraines” to better understand their condition and find solutions.

Searches for both terms hit their high-water mark during the third week in February 2020, which was followed by a steep drop-off through the third week in March. These spikes and dips were likely related to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Headache is a primary symptom of Covid-19, but people may not have considered that as a possibility at first. Once quarantine started in many major US cities, most people were focused on understanding Covid-19, and other health-related searches took a temporary back seat.

7. Search Trend 7 – ACT for migraine

Searches for Acceptance Commitment Therapy (ACT) have gradually increase over the last five years.

ACT is regarded by many as a way to help people with pain, physical challenges, and mental health issues. Emerging research shows promise for ACT in treating migraineurs who have frequent headaches without aura.

ACT is a behavioral therapy designed to build resilience through acceptance, mindfulness, and a commitment to facing problems rather than avoiding them. With increased resilience, patients can navigate challenges and setbacks better, and take actions that help when available.

In a study published in Neurology in 2019, participants who underwent ACT in addition to medication experienced fewer migraines per month and used less medication than patients who treated their migraines with medication alone.

8. Search Trend 8 – Botox for migraine

Relative interest in “botox for migraine” has decreased over the last two years.

After botulinum neurotoxin type A (Botox) became a common cosmetic treatment, people with chronic headaches began reporting symptom improvements. In 2010, the FDA approved Botox for migraine treatment for a certain subset of patients. Now in 2020, patients “with chronic migraine who have symptoms every day or every other day” are approved to use it. The exact reason it helps with migraine is unknown, but Botox may dampen the transmission of certain chemicals in the brain that produce pain.

Botox injections are “superior to placebo for chronic migraines after three months of therapy,” according to a 2019 analysis of research published in the journal Plastic Reconstructive Surgery.

There are, however, possible side effects such as neck pain. And the Botox can potentially spread from the injection site to other areas, resulting in muscle weakness, according to the Harvard Health Blog.

But neither of those are likely significant enough bad news to result in a downward search trend. However, drugs that inhibit a chemical in the body called CGRP (calcitonin gene-related peptide), which Google suggests as being related, actually exploded in November 2018. So it appears that another medical solution coming into the market potentially dampened Botox’s popularity with migraine sufferers.

9. Search Trend 9 – CGRP inhibitors for migraine

CGRP inhibitors broke onto the search scene with their debut in the market in late 2017.

In 2018, the FDA approved three new migraine medications known as CGRP inhibitors. These groundbreaking medications are the first prescription medications formulated to treat migraines specifically.

The new class of drugs interferes with a protein called calcitonin gene-related peptide (CGRP), which causes inflammation of the brain coverings known as the meninges. This inflammation causes migraine pain. The new drugs are antibodies that either block the overall CGRP protein or the protein’s receptors.

CGRP inhibitors are approved for episodic and chronic migraine. The drugs, which are given intravenously or through periodic injections, lowered the number of migraines for some chronic sufferers from 15 or more to between six and eight per month.

While CGRP inhibitors aren’t a cure-all and aren’t effective for everyone, they do show promise as a new type of treatment. As Dr. Stewart Tepper, a professor of Neurology at the Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth, told the American Migraine Foundation in an interview on the new anti-CGRP treatments, “we’ve never had preventive medication designed for migraine... that are very, very well tolerated. We’ve never had preventive medicines that kick in and give significant clinical benefit within a month. If you add all of that up, this really seems like a watershed moment.”

Stay on top of migraine trends

Migraine treatment, prevention, and management options are constantly evolving. So be sure to stay current on the trends. And talk with your doctor about how to improve your treatment today and in the future. Next up, learn what drinks help with headaches.