Migraine: Facts, Fiction, and Frequently Asked Questions
Migraine is a very common health problem. It’s not surprising that myths on migraine are also common! Let debunk some of those false ideas that are still heard frequently.
FICTION: A migraine is just a bad headache.
FACT: Migraine is a neurological disorder and one it’s symptoms is headache. Other symptoms include nausea; sensitivity to light, noise, and smells; neck pain, and difficulty concentrating.
FICTION: Migraine is caused by stress and depression.
FACT: Migraine is a neurological disorder, not a psychological disorder. Stress and depression are not the cause of migraines, however, they can contribute to the frequency and intensity of migraine. Stress can trigger a migraine. There is also a link between migraines and anxiety and depression. These conditions involve similar networks, such as serotonin and norepinephrine.
FICTION: There is no cure for migraine, so there is no point in treating them.
FACT: Although there is no cure for migraine, with medication and lifestyle changes, it is possible to control them. If migraines are affecting your work, family, or social life, consider seeing a doctor.
FICTION: My headaches are not dangerous, I just get migraines.
FACT: During their lifetimes, people with migraines can sometimes develop different types of headache. An unusual headache could be a sign of a potentially serious health problem.
WHAT ARE THE SIGNS OF AN ALARMING HEADACHE?
✦ Headache that is different from your usual headache, including sudden onset (thunderclap) headache
✦Neurological symptoms: loss of vision, double vision, paralysis, confusion, speech disorder.
✦Other symptoms: weight loss or fever.
✦A headache that gets worse over several days, or with exertion, coughing, or lying down.
Since migraine doesn’t show up on CT and MRI scans, it is not always taken seriously. But migraine is a real electrical and neurochemical phenomenon. The diagnosis of migraine is based on symptoms and the exclusion of other possible causes for headaches.
FICTION: Migraine is not life-threatening, it’s just annoying.
FACT: Although migraines are not dangerous, their impact on quality of life can be very serious. People often miss work and social activities because of migraine. The World Health Organization recognizes the migraine attack as severely disabling and listed migraine as the #1 cause for disability in adults below 50 years old.
FICTION: The more medicine you take, the better you will feel.
FACT: Many drugs used to relieve migraine (analgesics, opioids, ergotamine, and triptans) can also make headaches worse if taken too frequently. This causes a new headache called a “medication overuse headache” or “rebound headache”.
FICTION: Only women suffer from migraines.
FACT: Migraine affects 6-8% of men and 15-18% of women. Migraine is particularly disabling for people between 35 and 45 years old, but it can also affect people young people and even children.
FICTION: Doctors know everything there is to know about migraines and they are easy to treat.
FACT: Migraine is not easy to diagnose and treat. Mechanisms behind migraine and new treatments are being discovered. Since people respond differently to treatments, you may try many medications before you find the ones that work best for you.
FICTION: Exercise has no impact on migraines.
FACT: Exercise can seem like a paradox. Intense exercise can bring on a migraine, but regular exercise will also reduce the frequency and intensity of migraines over time.