Migraine Term of the Day - Refractory

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migraine glossary

Writer's note: Some of you have expressed an interest in learning more of the medical terminology that comes up when discussing migraine disease and other headache disorders. So, I'll be posting a "term of the day," on a regular basis. If there are terms you'd like to have defined, please leave a comment below.

When we're given migraine and headache information, whether from our doctor, a book, or an online article, we sometimes come across medical terms that can be confusing. While it's easy enough to substitute another word or a short phrase for the medical term, there are times when substituting doesn't quite convey the same meaning.

Refractory is one of those terms. It's sometimes used when talking about migraine medications and treatments, so it's an important word for migraineurs to understand.


Very simply, refractory means resistant to treatment.

Here's an example of how it's used in a sentence:

One of the most difficult effects of medication overuse headache is that it can make migraines become refractory.


When migraines become refractory to acute treatment, options beyond the standard first-line treatments must be considered. Sometimes, refractory migraines will respond to IV infusions of various medications including simple magnesium sulfate, steroids, D.H.E. 45, and valproate sodium. This can often be accomplished in an outpatient setting, either in an emergency department or in an infusion center.

For more terms, see our Migraine Medical Terms Glossary Index.