As we celebrate Black culture and diversity during Black History Month, we also want to raise awareness of racial and ethnic disparities that exist in headache and migraine care for Black patients. Black headache patients are less likely to receive acute pain medication and report a higher pain intensity than white patients.

  • Among patients with a headache, only 46% of Black patients seek help from a healthcare provider compared to 72% of white patients.*
  • Only 47% of Black patients with headaches have an official headache diagnosis compared to 70% of white patients. *
  • Only 14% of Black headache patients receive prescriptions for acute migraine medications, compared to 37% of white headache patients.

There are many reasons for these disparities. Racism, a mistrust of the medical community and a lack of representation all play a part. One-third of Black people reported experiencing discrimination from healthcare providers. A 2016 study found that half of white medical students had false beliefs about biological differences between Black and white patients. This can lead to greater racial disparity when treating pain.**

Most of the current research has been completed on white females. This can further worsen disparities as there is no way to know if tested treatment works for those Black individuals and other racial groups.

What can we do to address disparities?

Breaking the cycle of healthcare disparities requires systemic and personal change. Patients can also arm themselves with information, so they can communicate their needs and advocate on their own behalf. Providers also need to recognize their own biases and incorporate cultural sensitivity and competency into their practices.

By creating an an environment where Black individuals feel empowered to ask questions and where their voices are heard, we can combat some of these disparities and improve care for headache and migraine.

Learn more about what it’s like to live with migraine as a person of color.

Racial Disparities in Migraine and Headache Care

* Robert A. Nicholson, PhD, Megan Rooney, MEd, Kelly Vo, MD, Erinn O’Laughlin, MPH, and Melanie Gordon, MD. (2006 May) Migraine Care Among Different Ethnicities: Do Disparities Exist? Headache, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2443411/

**Kelly M. Hoffman, Sophie Trawalter, Jordan R. Axt, and M. Norman Oliver (2016 Apr 4) Racial bias in pain assessment and treatment recommendations, and false beliefs about biological differences between blacks and whites Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4843483/