Hope Is an Essential Element of Migraine Management

by Teri Robert Patient Advocate

One of the most important elements to effective migraine treatment and management is one that's seldom discussed - hope. In fact, hope may be THE most important element because our minds have a strong impact on how our bodies respond to treatments and if, indeed, they respond at all.

This isn't just about my trying to encourage you or give you hope; although, that's always one of my goals. There's scientific evidence about how our state of mind can negatively impact treatments and medications and other aspects of health. There are a couple of terms for this phenomenon:

  • Self-Fulfilling Prophecy. This is such a basic concept that it's taught in beginning psychology classes. A self-fulfilling prophecy is a prophecy that causes itself to become true, either directly or indirectly, due to positive feedback between our beliefs and behaviors.

  • Nocebo Effect. The nocebo effect occurs when a patient takes a harmless substance (placebo) and experiences negative side effects because of their negative expectations. This term is most often seen in relation to placebo-controlled clinical trials.

Hope and Effective Migraine Management:

Let me tie all of this together with some "ifs:"* If we try a new treatment while thinking that it isn't going to work, it's highly probable that it won't. Our minds will prevent it from working, regardless of how our bodies might have responded to it had we not had the self-fulfilling prophecy that it wouldn't work.

  • If we let ourselves be overwhelmed by the thoughts of negative side effects and try a new medication being certain that we'll experience those side effects, we will experience them. Our minds make sure of that because of the nocebo effect.

On the other hand:* If we try a new treatment with hope that it will work, it's far more likely that it will work for us.

  • If we do not let ourselves be overwhelmed by potential side effects and try a new medication remembering that they're potential side effects that we may not experience, then we're less likely to experience side effects. Even if we've had problems with other medications, we need to not let ourselves hope that we won't have problems with the next one.

Maintaining Hope:

The trials of life itself test our hope on a daily basis. Add migraines, and yikes! When we're in pain and experiencing other migraine symptoms and when we're desperately searching for treatments that work for us, hope can be far from our thoughts. Yet, that's when we need it most. We have to make it a habit to think with hope. We can draw strength from our support system. I find that it's easier to hold on to hope myself when trying to help others find and keep hope.

Hope is also very personal. What gives some people hope may not mean much to someone else. Knowing how hope can impact the success or failure of our treatment and management plans and thinking of hope as part of those plans can go a long, long way.

More Helpful Information:

Live well,

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Teri Robert
Meet Our Writer
Teri Robert

Teri Robert is a leading patient educator and advocate and the author of Living Well with Migraine Disease and Headaches. A co-founder of the Alliance for Headache Disorders Advocacy and the American Headache and Migraine Association, she received the National Headache Foundation's Patient Partners Award and a Distinguished Service Award from the American Headache Society.