What Is This Thing Called Migraine?

Do you know what a migraine is? Do you think you know?

Many people believe that a migraine is just a really bad headache. Which is wrong. In fact, the typical tension headache is caused by blood vessel constriction. With a migraine, the same blood vessels are dilated.

Many doctors define a migraine as having sharp, throbbing pain on one side of the head, with nauseau, vomiting, and sensitivity to light and sound. They also think of them as more severe than a tension headache.

I cannot tell you how many times I have read and heard that definition from doctors! Even some of the “experts” on migraine cannot agree. I’ve seen more than one “expert” defintion that is similar the above. And perhaps that is why I had migraines for over 30 years before even knowing they were migraines.

Here’s an definition I found online:

A familial, recurrent syndrome characterized usually by unilateral head pain, accompanied by various focal disturbances of the nervous system, particularly in regard to visual phenomenon, such as scintillating scotomas. Classified as classic migraine, common migraine, cluster headache, hemiplegic migraine, ophthalmoplegic migraine, and ophthalmic migraine.

That was helpful, wasn’t it?

The reality is that you have to look at the totality of symptoms and their history in order to diagnose migraine. Migraines are not always one-sided. They are not always throbbing. They do not always cause nausea or vomiting. They are not always accompanied by sensitivity to light and sound. And further, there can be degrees of pain with a migraine.

Statistics say that some 28 million people in the United States suffer from migraine. And that’s just those that have been properly diagnosed. We’re called migraneurs – at least we have a nice-sounding name!

What else should you know about migraines? They are a neurological disease. A prolonged migraine can lead to stroke and even death. They often result in decreased productivity, inability to think clearly,

Treatment for migraines is quite different than for a tension headache. Often, OTC treatments won’t help a migraine. Furthermore, for some perverse reason, those that suffer with migraines (we’re called migraneurs – at least we have a nice name!) can also suffer from rebound headaches from many of the same medications that help a migraine.

So, what do you do if you think you may have a migraine?

  • Keep a diary of your head pain. Record where you were, what you were doing, time of day, etc. If you’re able to identify situations that seem to trigger the problem, try avoiding them.
  • By all means, seek help. A migraine isn’t just a headache and needs to be taken seriously.
  • Consult with your primary doctor.
  • If your primary doctor gives a definition as above and it doesn’t fit your symptoms, then see a neurologist. Keep looking until you find someone who really understands migraine.
  • Learn more. There are a number of sites, listed below, that can help you learn more about migraine. (There are others, too, but many of them are sponsored by drug companies who have their own agenda – selling you drugs.)

ACHE – American Headache Society Committee for Headache Education

American Headache Society
MAGNUM: The National Migraine Association

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