Headache or Migraine? A name says so much!

Teri Robert @trobert Health Guide
  • One of the biggest issues facing Migraineurs is the misconceptions and general lack of understanding from other people. Too many people still think that Migraines are "just bad headaches," that a couple of Tylenol will take care of them, that they're harmless.

    I just read a SharePost by one of our members who was commenting on the lack of knowledge even among medical professionals. One thing that struck me was that she referred to her Migraines as "headaches." I admit that the phrase "Migraine headache" pushes my buttons, and I'll tell you why.

    First, Migraines aren't actually headaches. They're flare-ups, attacks, or episodes of a genetic neurological disease, Migraine disease. Some people have Migraine attacks without any headache. The headache, when there is one, is but one symptom of a Migraine attack, just as the nausea, phonophobia, photophobia, confusion, and so on are symptoms.
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    Second, calling a Migraine attack a "headache" doesn't do anything to dispel the misconceptions about Migraines. If we call them "headaches," why should other people think they're anything except a plain old headache? Just that one word can make an enormous conceptual difference.

    Here are some suggestions for talking about our Migraines that will hopefully increase the impact of what we say:
    • Always say "Migraine attack" not "headache."
    • Don't go into a lot of detail except with people you're sure want to hear it.
    • Place as much or more importance on the disabling effects of Migraine as on the pain. There's almost always some level of disability with a Migraine attack.
    • When talking with health care professionals and asked to rate pain on 1 - 10 scale, be realistic. Unless it's the worst pain you've ever had, it's probably not really a 10. If you tell a doctor your pain is at 12 out of 10, there's going to be eye-rolling going on, even if only in the doctor's mind.
    • Keep learning as much as you can about Migraine disease. We can't educate others unless we keep educating ourselves.
    Bottom line? Words have connotations as well as meanings. "Headache" doesn't really get it when describing a Migraine attack. It leaves out everything else that goes on during an attack, all the other symptoms and the impact on our lives.
Published On: March 21, 2007