05/21/07 #3 - Is Migraine a catch all term for severe headaches?

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  • Full Question:
    I have been dealing with rather bizarre and intense headaches for the last 8 years.  So that you know what I am dealing with, my headaches include:  A slow developing pain over the right side of my head, particularly above and behind the right eye.  This pain intensifies.  There is a great deal of pressure, as if bricks are weighing down the eye. The eye turns  blood shot, the pupil is affected.  There is tearing and the lid droops. My face becomes flush and my right sinus often swells. I become very exhausted mentally and physically.  I feel as if I am in a mental fog. Although I have no nausea or sensitivity to light or sound, some movement (especially rising) can intensify the pain. On rare occasions I have experience ocular migraines, but they have never preceded a headache. It has only been with in the last 2.5 years that the headaches have become increasingly aggressive to the point that I have sought a headache specialist for their management. She diagnosed me has having: Atypical Cluster Headaches with Ocular Migraines.  Even with preventative medications I am getting roughly two a month, lasting 1 - 3 days, depending on their intensity. Over this past year, while on preventative medication, I have noticed that I get "the starts of a headache" on a daily basis. This makes emergency medication often ineffective as I must "wait and see". I have also noticed that most mornings I wake up with a red eye and swollen sinus. These subside as I go about my daily routine. 

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    My question is concerning the use of the term migraine. Since my initial diagnosis, everyone at the headache clinic refers to my headaches as migraines, including the neurologist. When I asked about this change in reference, it was explained to me that migraine is an umbrella term they use. I am confused, and considering the fact that I am constantly asked questions concerning migraine symptoms: if my nausea, light and sound sensitivity has improved etc. ( I have never had these), I am beginning to wonder if I should seek assistance elsewhere. First however, I wanted to see if migraine is a catch all term for severe headaches, and if clusters and migraines are one and the same (since they are both vascular in nature)  Thank you for your time. Sincerely, Shannon.



    Dear Shannon;

    No, Migraine is absolutely not a catch-all term for all severe headaches. Allow us to offer some informational points:

    • Migraines are not “severe headaches.” Migraine is a genetic neurological disease. Migraine attacks can consist of many symptoms. Some people experience Migraines with no headache.

    • Cluster headaches and Migraines are two separate conditions. Take a look at these two articles for information:

    • “Ocular Migraine,” although a term used by some doctors, is not a standard Migraine diagnosis and can mean something totally different each time it’s used, depending on the doctor using it. Please see: Ocular, Optical, and Opthalmic Migraines.

    Cluster headaches and Migraine attacks can have some similar symptoms, but the type of pain and the length of the pain phase can often help differentiate. Hopefully, the information we’ve linked to here will give you what you need to talk with your doctor and decide if you should seek care elsewhere.

  • Good luck,
    John Claude Krusz and Teri Robert

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    Dr. Krusz is a recognized expert in the fields of headache and migraine treatment and pain treatment. Each week, he and Lead Expert Teri Robert, team up to answer your questions about headaches and Migraines. You can read more about Dr. Krusz or more about Teri Robert. If you have a question for this section of our site, please click HERE. Accepted questions will be answered by publishing the answers here. No questions will be answered privately.


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Published On: May 20, 2007