New migraine questions in the next New Zealand Health Survey

A year ago in June 2022, Migraine Foundation Aotearoa New Zealand applied to the Ministry of Health to add questions about migraine to the New Zealand Health Survey, a national survey of over 13,000 adults.

This month we received the positive news that questions we asked for have been included in the 2023/24 survey, and will go into the field in July.

This is a huge step forward for migraine research in Aotearoa New Zealand.

The last time the Ministry of Health asked a question about migraine was 10 years ago, in the 2013/14 New Zealand Health Survey and it wasn’t a good question. Then, the Ministry asked whether you had been diagnosed with migraine by a doctor. That question excluded people who had not been diagnosed by a doctor or didn’t realise they had migraine.

This undercounting of people with migraine means that the burden of migraine in New Zealand has never been well understood. The results of the 2013/14 survey were never officially published and appear to have had no impact on improving any aspect of living with migraine in NZ. The 2013/14 results were only released because Migraine Foundation Aotearoa New Zealand requested them.

By contrast, the questions we’ve asked the Ministry to include in the 2023/24 survey will identify people who are currently experiencing migraine based on their symptoms (of headache, nausea and sensitivity to light or sound). These are from a validated standard set of questions developed to assess the likelihood that a person has migraine disease. The survey will also include the question asking people whether they had ever been diagnosed with migraine disease, so we can compare responses and get an idea of how many people have a diagnosis and who does not.

The response to these new migraine questions in the Ministry’s 2023/24 survey will give us the clearest understanding of the impact and prevalence of migraine across Aotearoa that we have ever seen. We’ll be able to find out more about who has migraine in NZ, differences across ethnicity and socioeconomic factors, the treatments people are using and their experiences of health care. Far from languishing unpublished like the 2013/14 survey results, the results of the new 2023/24 survey questions on migraine will be relevant for policy-makers and researchers as we work towards reducing the social and economic burden of migraine disease in New Zealand.

Congratulations to the Ministry of Health for acting on our application and taking the opportunity to fill one of the many information gaps we have about migraine in New Zealand.

We’re also grateful to the Neurological Foundation, the New Zealand Pain Society, Dr Calvin Chan, Professor Debbie Hay and Dr Desiree Fernandez for supporting our application.

It will be 2025 before we see the results from the 2023/24 New Zealand Health Survey’s new migraine questions, but it will be well worth the wait. In the meantime, we have gleaned many insights into the impact of migraine from our online survey in 2022, which we can use to highlight the needs of our community – and the need for ongoing research.