14 Migraine Truths

Patient Expert
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Despite the fact that 18% of women and 6% of men have migraine, misconceptions abound. There are facts that people simply don’t know, and that adds to the misconceptions and social stigma attached to migraine disease, making it even harder to live with it. Here are 14 migraine truths.

Migraine is a disease

Migraine is a genetic neurological disease caused by genetic predisposition and a brain that is overly sensitive to certain stimuli that are migraine triggers.

Migraine research has made progress

Over the last decade, there have been great strides in migraine research including: what migraine is, what goes on in the brain, and in new treatments. New treatments include both medications and devices. Dr. Peter Goadsby wrote a great review of the decade’s progress. Read more about it in Decade of Progress in Migraine Research Marks Better Care.

Stress can be a migraine trigger

Stress can be a migraine trigger, BUT we do ourselves a great disservice if we don’t look for other triggers we may encounter during stressful times because some of them may be avoidable. Those triggers may include: not drinking enough and becoming dehydrated, too much caffeine, disrupted sleep, skipping meals or eating on an irregular schedule, disrupted sleep, and crying. You can learn more about migraine triggers in Common Migraine Triggers.

New treatments need a positive attitude

Did you know that our minds are so strong that they can override our bodies? It’s true. In psychology, it’s called “self-fulfilling prophecy;” in medicine, it’s called the “nocebo effect.” If we begin a new treatment thinking that it won’t work, our minds can override our bodies and make sure it doesn’t work. You can read more about this in Hope Is an Essential Element of Migraine Management.

Migraine treatments come in different forms

The effectiveness of migraine treatments can be improved by utilizing different delivery systems. Oral delivery may not be effective because of gastric stasis or the nausea associated with migraine. Several of the triptans come in more than one form, especially sumatriptan (Imitrex). It comes in tablets, subcutaneous injection, nasal spray, and an iontophoretic patch. For more information on this topic see Triptans for Migraine – Forms and Uses.

Stigma makes it harder to live with migraine

Research has shown that the social stigma associated with migraine disease increases the burden of living with the disease. This stigma is fueled by pervasive misconceptions and myths about migraine. The best ways to fight the stigma are to educate people about migraines and increase awareness. June is Migraine and Headache Awarness Month. Each of us can help reduce the stigma by raising awareness during June and throughout the year.

Migraine can be disabling

The World Health Organization (WHO) stated in a report that migraine is the 8th most disabling disease in the world. The report also states that a severe migraine attack is as disabling as quadriplegia. Even an acephalgic migraine, which occurs with no headache phase, can be disabling because of the other symptoms.

The costs of migraine are enormous

In the U.S. alone, people with migraine miss 113 million work days per year. That’s 113 million days that people are too ill to work. That doesn’t count people who are self-employed, stay-at-home parents, disabled, etc. The number of “sick days” for everyone with migraine has yet to be calculated because it’s pretty much impossible to calculate. That’s the human cost. The financial cost to employers in the U.S. is in excess of $13 billion per year.

There's confusion about migraine specialists

Neurologists aren’t necessarily migraine specialists, and migraine specialists aren’t necessarily neurologists. There are, however, doctors who specialize in migraine and other headache disorders. They have a special interest in these disorders and regularly attend continuing medical education events to stay up-to-date, and some have done a subspecialty residency in “headache medicine.” More about this in Why, How and Where to Find a Migraine Specialist.

We need to be migraine treatment partners

I fully believe and work by principle: “Optimal health care can be achieved only when patients are educated about their health and patients and physicians work together as treatment partners in an atmosphere of mutual respect.” That’s how Dr. Watson and I work, and I credit it for my currently successful migraine management. I don’t know where I’d be without this partnership. Please see more about this in Managing Migraine.

No migraine cure yet

No matter what we may see people say online, there is no cure for migraine yet. There is no magic pill, no natural cure, no surgical cure, NO CURE. Trust me, if someone had found a cure, we’d all know it, and they would be receiving a Nobel Prize in Medicine. The good news is that even though there’s no cure yet, we have more treatment options than every, and progress is being made.

A migraine is not a headache

A migraine is not a headache. A migraine, best called a “migraine attack,” is an episode with many potential symptoms. For a diagnosis of migraine, there must be other symptoms in addition to headache. The headache, when there is one, is just one of the symptoms, and a migraine can occur with no headache at all. The possible phases of a migraine attack are described in Anatomy of a Migraine. Also see Acephalgic or Silent Migraine.

Migraine can and does kill

The difficult truth is that migraine disease can and does kill. In some cases, a migraine atttack can cause a fatal stroke. Fortunately, those cases are relatively rare. The pain, isolation, and hopelessness of severe and / or chronic migraine can kill by causing people to so totally lose hope that they take their own lives. The cause of death won’t be listed as migraine, but it is.

We must each be a migraine patient advocate

First, we must be our own best advocates to receive the best care possible and combat the social stigma we may encounter. Here’s a hard fact – If we don’t stand up for ourselves and take part in advocacy efforts, we can’t expect others to do it for us.  There are online advocacy opportunities that are as simple as sending an email or signing an online petition.