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Painfully aware of migraine

With around 12 million Filipinos suffering from migraine, particularly the youth and women, imagine how this disorder can affect a country’s worker productivity and long-term economic growth




PHOTO shows (from left) Christine Fajardo, country corporate affairs head; Dr. Maria Pamela Chua, medical franchise head (both from Novartis Healthcare Philippines); Dr. Regina Macalintal-Canlas, president, Philippine Headache Society; Dr. Martha Lu-Bolaos, head, Headache Council, Philippine Neurological Association; Dr. Imelda Santos, chief labor employment officer, Bureau of Working Conditions, Department of Labor and Employment; and Christian Joy Fajardo, migraine sufferer.

It is ironic to be writing an article about migraine while suffering through another attack or episode of it. Migraine sucks the joy out of your life and makes you into a Medusa-like monster and the worst person to be around.

The fear of having a migraine can dictate your daily activities. It’s hard to make plans when you know that any moment, an attack can force you to cancel it. It puts you in constant fear of triggering it. Despite the gravity of this ailment, people still perceive that migraine is not to be taken seriously and sufferers are dismissed as being overly dramatic.

“Contrary to popular belief, migraine is not just a simple headache. It is among the 48 diseases that account for 80 percent of the daily-adjusted life years in the country,” says Dr. Regina Macalintal-Canlas, president of the Philippine Headache Society (PHS), during the International Migraine Awareness Week media briefing recently at the Luxent Hotel in Quezon City.

Migraine, one of top 10 most disabling disorders worldwide, is a type of headache disorder that involves recurrent attacks of moderate to severe head pain that is often felt on one side of the head and associated with nausea, vomiting and sensitivity to light, sound and odors.

Migraine is caused by factors such as hormonal or systemic factors, physical and emotional stress, external stimuli and diet. “If you go to Chinese restaurants, the soup contains two to three times MSG so that’s why after consuming it you get sleepy and you get a severe headache later. This is due to monosodium glutamate used in Chinese cuisine and in Japanese restaurants, mainly their soy sauce and wasabis. These could easily trigger migraine attacks if you are a person with migraine,” Dr. Canlas reveals.

It is interesting to note that migraine is serious enough to reduce life expectancy. And with around 12 million Filipinos suffering from migraine, particularly the youth and women, imagine how this disorder can affect a country’s worker productivity and long-term economic growth.

In the United Kingdom alone, 25 million working or school days are lost every year due to migraine while 90 percent of people report they cannot work or function with a migraine.
“Unfortunately, migraine is widely misunderstood and misconceptions abound. People living with migraine may experience a lack of empathy from employers and colleagues when frequent migraine attacks prevent them from delivering optimal work outputs,” Dr. Canlas says.

The PHS, Philippine Neurological Association (PNA) and Novartis Healthcare Philippines are working together to improve awareness about migraine as they called on employers to work with healthcare professionals in providing effective treatment that can reduce the impact of migraine on worker productivity. These include effective disease management programs that include patient education on lifestyle changes to prevent migraine attacks and ease symptoms and appropriate medications for early treatment of migraine.

“A lot of people who are afflicted with migraines include workers. But, sad to say, it’s misunderstood and it’s not supported by legislation unlike drugs in the workplace, TB prevention control, Hepatitis B prevention and control and HIV/AIDS. What we can do right now is to maybe include migraine when we meet with employers and the most that they could do at least is to include awareness raising and information dissemination on migraine in their occupational health program,” Dr. Imelda Santos, chief labor employment officer at Bureau of Working Conditions, says.

Canlas says a simple analgesic can help ease the pain. In case medicine is not available, however, she suggests a cold canned beverage pressed to the painful area on the head to relieve the pain as the dilated vessel will constrict and lessen the headache.

She warns against taking too much medicine in treating migraine: “But, of course, medication overuse has to be considered not only because it taxes the kidneys, but also the more they get headaches because of too much use of the analgesics.”

Dr. Martha Lu-Bolaňos, head of the PNA Headache Council, adds that aside from the oral medications, certain gadgets and tools can be used for migraines. She advises Filipinos who experience migraine signs and symptoms to consult a headache specialist for proper diagnosis and management.

“Medications are available that can stop migraine symptoms and prevent future attacks. The doctor can also advise patients about lifestyle changes and home remedies that can help prevent migraine attacks and ease symptoms,” she says, putting emphasis on recognizing the warning signs of an impending migraine.

Throughout the International Migraine Awareness Week in connection to the International Migraine Awareness Week from 1 to 7 September, Novartis Healthcare Philippines in collaboration with the PNA and PHS conducted lay awareness forums in Baguio General Hospital, Jose B. Lingad Regional Hospital (San Fernando, Pampanga), Philippine General Hospital, Adventist Medical Center Manila, De La Salle Medical Center (Dasmariñas, Cavite), Davao Medical School Foundation and Novartis office (Makati).

To learn more about migraine, visit the Speak Your Migraine FaceBook page at

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