One of the most difficult issues facing those of us living with migraine and other headache disorders is finding a doctor who knows enough about them and has the experience to be able to help us. Part of the problem stems from a lack of medical school education on migraine and headache disorders. A World Health Organization (WHO) report revealed that:
“Worldwide, formal undergraduate medical training included just four hours about headache and Migraine; specialist training included 10 hours.”
When our doctors aren’t able to help with our migraines or headaches, it’s time to look for a migraine and headache specialist. There are two places I recommend checking when looking for a migraine and headache specialist:
- The American Headache Society’s Find a Health Care Professional search. This search will lead you to both UCNS certified specialists and excellent specialists who aren’t certified. You can search for certified specialists only or all specialists, by name or state.
- The Migraine Research Foundation’s listing of certified specialists. They also have a link to a list of specialists for children.
When we look for a migraine and headache specialist, we should be looking for a true treatment partner who reviews all of our options with us and makes decisions WITH us, not FOR us. Here are some things to remember:
- Unfortunately, some doctors call themselves migraine and headache specialists when, in fact, they have no more knowledge or experience than the “average” doctor. This is one reason I recommend the links above for locating a specialist.
- Neurologists aren’t necessarily migraine and headache specialists, and migraine and headache specialists aren’t necessarily neurologists.
- The United Council for Neurologic Subspecialties (UCNS) now offers certification in “headache medicine.” UCNS certification is relatively new. Specialists sit for an exam in “headache medicine” and must pass it for certification. There are some good specialists who aren’t UCNS certified because they’ve been in practice long enough that they choose not to sit for the exam.
- When we call for a first appointment with a specialist, there’s nothing wrong with asking about their qualifications.
There’s a shortage of qualified migraine and headache specialists, so many of us have to travel to see one. Having been in that position, I know quite well how daunting it is. My husband and I spent nearly five years taking two days and driving eight hours each direction so I could see my first migraine specialist. It truly was the turning point in getting my migraines managed, so it was well worth it.
More Helpful Information:
- Migraine and Headache Specialists - What’s So Special?
- Migraineur’s Guide to a Successful Doctor’s Appointment
- Your Migraine and Headache Diary
World Health Organization, Lifting the Burden. “Atlas of Headache Disorders and Resources in the World 2011.” Geneva. World Health Organization. May, 2011.
_Reviewed by David Watson, MD. _
© Teri Robert, 2015. • Last updated August 11, 2015.
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+.