Honing in on Headaches: The American Headache Society Conference

Members of our lab, including Sophie Wilcox and research assistant alumna Allison Ludwick, attended the 59th annual conference for the American Headache Society to present ongoing research on pediatric and adult headaches. Lab collaborators from the Boston Children’s Hospital Headache Clinic, including Dr. Alyssa Lebel, nurse practitioner Victoria Karian, and clinic members Jonathan Rabner, Olivia Bou, and Grace Tanning, also attended the conference to present their work.

Founded in 1970, the American Headache Society is a community of health care providers dedicated to studying and treating headache and face pain. Their goal is to improve the care and lives of headache sufferers through encouraging better headache research, education, and clinical care.

The world of headaches and migraines

Most of the Westin Hotel at the Boston Waterfront was overflowing with information on headaches and migraines. Attendees included a range of research assistants, doctors, and scientists committed to encouraging scientific research on the causes and consequences of headache pain. Presentations spanned from Thursday to Sunday and took place in both large conference halls and smaller, more intimate environments.

Myself, Grace Tanning, Jonathan Rabner, and Allison Ludwick at the AHS conference.

In a large conference room on the ground floor, attendees wandered around from poster to poster engaging in conversations about their colleagues work. Topics ranged from novel pain medications, to the mechanisms of headache pain, to the physiological and psychological symptoms that accompany headaches and migraines.

Allison Ludwick’s poster on mapping pain in pediatric migraines.

Allison’s poster covered her evaluation of pediatric, adolescent, and young adult migraineurs, specifically with regards to the location and quality of their headache pain. Using a headache map, participants were told to select the area where they experience their migraine pain. Her work showed a distinction between the three age groups and a movement of headache pain from the front of patients’ heads, as reported by children, to the side of patients’ heads, as reported by young adults. Understanding the differences in pain location across age groups is a key step in developing more accurate clinical diagnoses, especially for pediatric migraineurs.

Recognizing research talent

Sophie Wilcox presenting her work on pediatric migraines.

Sophie received the Frontiers in Headache Research Scholarship Award for her work on pediatric migraines. Criteria for the award are based on the quality of the research proposal and the proposal’s contribution to the advancement of headache medicine.

Sophie’s presentation covered the prevalence of migraines and how they are one of the most common types of medical conditions in children. However, pediatric research on migraine pain is lacking. There is still a significant gap in knowledge regarding the early stages of disease development and the neurological changes that occur as children develops into adults.

Sophie’s work addressed this gap by using MRI data to examine the structural and functional differences between the brains of pediatric, adolescent, and adult migraineurs.

Furthering our understanding of headaches

The conference provided wonderful exposure to the ongoing research on headaches and migraines. Many headache and migraine patients are still suffering from unnecessary pain that can persist for their entire lives. Encouraging headache research is a necessary step in developing higher quality clinical care for headache patients and understanding the disease progression.

Helen Santoro

Posted by Helen Santoro

Helen graduated from Hamilton College in 2015 with a Bachelor of Arts in Neuroscience. She is currently involved in an fMRI study looking at children, adolescents and young adults who suffer from post-concussive headaches.

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