‘I’ve got a splitting headache’

Most have uttered these words before, either after a long night of drinking, not getting enough sleep, or just being overloaded with stress. Migraine headaches, which affect approximately 12% of the population (more so among women), are a completely different beast, and are classified as a medical disorder. Typically, they are characterized by chronic incapacitating headaches, and can be followed by pain of a pulsating quality, nausea with or without vomiting, and extreme sensitivity to light and sound. Most forms of treatment seem to center around pain-relievers and preventative medications, but the digital world of mobile health (mHealth) applications seem to offer hope as well.

Application of treatment

It seems that mHealth apps for migraines work their magic by assisting in relaxation techniques, providing biofeedback, managing cognitive behavioral therapy and pharmacotherapy, and providing a platform for ‘headache diaries’ (for the most current review, see Stubberud & Linde, 2018). However, most of the apps appear to be centered on headache diaries, with some research suggesting that this feature has tremendous potential for the management of headaches.

Currently, most of the research seems to suggest that there is great potential for mHealth in managing migraines, but newer apps should focus on a couple of key points. First, the usability and functionality of these apps for both healthcare providers and the end users, as this may facilitate their use, and contribute to more data generation. Second, guidelines should be created for not just migraine apps, but all mHealth and eHealth wellness platforms, so as to produce more scientifically validated data. There is also evidence indicating that apps that aren’t designed correctly (i.e., not involving healthcare professionals or scientists), can actually worsen symptoms. Third, accountability should be taken into consideration, and apps that allow for communication between the end user and healthcare professional may remedy this issue. Finally, Big Data and the Internet of Things (IoT) should also be taken into consideration when designing these apps. Big data was briefly discussed in our Inflammatory Bowel Disease article, but IoT simply refers to the integration of everyday ‘things’ such the lights in your house, your car, even your body, into a larger computing network. The Internet of Things can include items such as sensors in the body, which can contribute data for ‘Big Data’. Wearable devices have seen an increase in recent years, and may help identify mechanisms and/or contribute to data that may help predict the onset of migraines.

headaches bowhead health migraines

Before we part…

Once the bugs have been addressed in newer versions of these apps (i.e., developed with healthcare professionals, and then rigorously tested), these apps will be a powerful tool in managing therapies and generating data which in turn accelerates research, and ultimately in increasing the quality of life for people living with migraine disorder.

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Minen, M. T., Adhikari, S., Seng, E. K., Berk, T., Jinich, S., Powers, S. W., & Lipton, R. B. (2019). Smartphone-based migraine behavioral therapy: a single-arm study with assessment of mental health predictors. npj Digital Medicine2(1), 46.

Nestoriuc, Y., & Martin, A. (2007). Efficacy of biofeedback for migraine: a meta-analysis. Pain128(1-2), 111-127.

Penzien, D. B., Irby, M. B., Smitherman, T. A., Rains, J. C., & Houle, T. T. (2015). Well-established and empirically supported behavioral treatments for migraine. Current pain and headache reports19(7), 34.

Stubberud, A., & Linde, M. (2018). Digital Technology and Mobile Health in Behavioral Migraine Therapy: a Narrative Review. Current pain and headache reports22(10), 66.

Urits, I., Jones, M. R., Gress, K., Charipova, K., Fiocchi, J., Kaye, A. D., & Viswanath, O. (2019). CGRP Antagonists for the Treatment of Chronic Migraines: a Comprehensive Review. Current pain and headache reports23(5), 29.