June is Migraine and Headache Awareness Month (MHAM), complete with a social media challenge to blog or otherwise use daily prompts in social media to raise awareness. Today is day 28, and the prompt is:
"There are no diagnostic tests to confirm migraine or most other headache disorders."
This is an important point for several reasons:
- Patients often wonder why their doctors don’t order more tests when, in fact, tests could well mean a waste of money, exposure to radiation, and more.
- In the case of primary headache disorders — those not caused by another illness, disorder, or injury — diagnostic testing is generally ordered to rule out organic reasons for the symptoms.
- Some migraine patients become angry when their doctors won’t order tests to “find the cause” of their migraines. Sadly, too many doctors don’t explain this well. The cause of migraine is a genetic predisposition and a hyperexcitable brain. Genetic testing is still young, very expensive, and not always helpful. While the genetic markers for hemiplegic migraine are now fairly well defined now, markers for other forms of migraine aren’t so well defined. Doctors also don’t always explain the difference between what causes migraine disease and what triggers migraine attacks.
As researchers continue looking for biomarkers, diagnostic tests for migraine and cluster headaches as well as other primary headache disorders may be developed.
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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. Teri can be found on her website, and blog, Facebook, Twitter, StumbleUpon, Pinterest, LinkedIn, and Google+.