Doctors on the Case: Allan Purdy

The President of the American Headache Society shares his thoughts on the connection between awareness, education, and progress in the migraine space

Allan Purdy is the President of the American Headache Society and Professor of Neurology at Dalhousie University, and we were lucky enough to have him share insights into his career and research. His expertise and dedication to treating patients makes him a one-of-a-kind voice in the Move Against Migraine movement. From migraine education to new efforts to promote awareness, he’s a prominent leader in the fight to find a cure for migraine.

Q&A with Dr. Allan Purdy, MD, FRCPC, President of the American Headache Society

AMF: Can you tell us about your approach to migraine education?

AP: Over the last 25 years, there has been a large amount of knowledge produced in basic and clinical science regarding the path of physiology of migraine. We’re approaching new targets for therapy, and we’re now on the edge of a new group of medications that help migraine patients prevent headaches. It’s important to recognize, however, that this kind of knowledge is sophisticated. It’s highly technical, scientific and biological, but what it boils down to is migraine is a valid, neurobiological disorder that affects a lot of people.

It’s also important to recognize that a majority of patients are female and that they are an important subgroup to treat. Patients don’t necessarily develop serious life threatening diseases with migraine—although that is possible—but it does change and alter their life forever. I had a feeling that the best way we could help migraine patients was to translate this kind of knowledge so that doctors who are taking care of patients—primary care doctors, nurse practitioners, physician’s assistants and neurologists who predominantly don’t see migraine or related disorders on a regular basis—could use it on a daily basis to help their patients get answers.

It is also very important to develop educational programs. We did this with the American Headache Society over numerous years, and I think it has translated into doctors being more interested in headache, being more interested in trying to help patients, and most importantly, I think it’s helped patients feel a lot better.

AMF: What do you think is the connection between awareness, education, and progress in the headache and migraine space?

AP: Headache is a very common disorder for neurologists to see. They’re basically taught in medical school to rule out serious causes of headache, particularly things like a brain tumor or an aneurysm where a bleed in the brain can be life threatening or life altering. However, it’s very interesting that migraine hijacks the normal pathways for pain in the brain. Even brain tumors can be present with a migraine-like headache, and a sudden-onset headache can appear in a migraine as well as an aneurysm. I think what we’re trying to do is get doctors to understand a lot more about headache diagnosis so they can apply this knowledge on a daily basis in their offices, in the emergency room, and in clinics.

AMF: How are you making a difference for migraine patients?

AP: I do alot of neurology work, but I also still see a lot of patients with migraine. Most of these patients have seen other physicians and neurologists, and a lot of them have complicated cases because they’ve tried many medications and have had numerous tests done with no real solution. I make a point to spend a lot of time with them trying to sort through their symptoms so we can figure out how to best treat them.

I also see a lot of young patients, most of whom are female as migraine tends to be more common in women. I like to see them because they’re at a certain stage in their life where education, talking about the causes of migraine, talking about how to treat it, and empowering them to spend a lot of time taking care of their own headache disorder works, and I find that to be most rewarding.

AMF: What is the biggest obstacle migraine patients face?

AP: Knowledge. Patients do not know what’s causing their migraine, and we do not know either. It’s a complex neurobiological disorder, and the etiopathogenesis is being worked on every day in laboratories and clinics around the world. What migraine patients are best at is knowing as much as they can about their headache. Ultimately, we like seeing migraine patients know almost as much as their doctors, and frequently they do. They are looking things up on the internet and spending time reading entire websites. I personally direct them to the American Headache Society’s website or the American Migraine Foundation’s website, both of which contain wonderful material for healthcare professionals, doctors, and patients. The more they learn, the better they can deal with their disorder.

From spearheading migraine research to conducting educational programs for physicians around the world, Dr. Purdy’s contributions to the migraine community are truly invaluable. To learn more about the current initiatives helping to find a cure for migraine, visit the American Migraine Foundation’s website.