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Migraine Mythbusting

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Migraine: When Headaches Are The Tip Of The Neurological Iceberg

Yesterday, we asked you “What is a migraine?” and got the above-depicted, below-described spread of responses:

  • Just under 46% said “a headache, but above a certain level of severity”
  • Just under 23% said “a headache, but caused by a neurological disorder”
  • Just over 21% said “a neurological disorder that can cause headaches”
  • Just under 10% said “a headache, but with an attention-grabbing name”

So… What does the science say?

A migraine is a headache, but above a certain level of severity: True or False?

While that’s usually a very noticeable part of it… That’s only one part of it, and not a required diagnostic criterion. So, in terms of defining what a migraine is, False.

Indeed, migraine may occur without any headache, let alone a severe one, for example: Abdominal Migraine—though this is much less well-researched than the more common with-headache varieties.

Here are the defining characteristics of a migraine, with the handy mnemonic 5-4-3-2-1:

  • 5 or more attacks
  • 4 hours to 3 days in duration
  • 2 or more of the following:
    • Unilateral (affects only one side of the head)
    • Pulsating
    • Moderate or severe pain intensity
    • Worsened by or causing avoidance of routine physical activity
  • 1 or more of the following:
    • Nausea and/or vomiting
    • Sensitivity to both light and sound

Source: Cephalalgia | ICHD-II Classification: Parts 1–3: Primary, Secondary and Other

As one of our subscribers wrote:

❝I have chronic migraine, and it is NOT fun. It takes away from my enjoyment of family activities, time with friends, and even enjoying alone time. Anyone who says a migraine is just a bad headache has not had to deal with vertigo, nausea, loss of balance, photophobia, light sensitivity, or a host of other symptoms.❞

Migraine is a neurological disorder: True or False?

True! While the underlying causes aren’t known, what is known is that there are genetic and neurological factors at play.

❝Migraine is a recurrent, disabling neurological disorder. The World Health Organization ranks migraine as the most prevalent, disabling, long-term neurological condition when taking into account years lost due to disability.

Considerable progress has been made in elucidating the pathophysiological mechanisms of migraine, associated genetic factors that may influence susceptibility to the disease❞

Source: JHP | Mechanisms of migraine as a chronic evolutive condition

Migraine is just a headache with a more attention-grabbing name: True or False?

Clearly, False.

As we’ve already covered why above, we’ll just close today with a nod to an old joke amongst people with chronic illnesses in general:

“Are you just saying that because you want attention?”

“Yes… Medical attention!”

Want to learn more?

You can find a lot of resources at…

NIH | National Institute of Neurological Disorders & Stroke | Migraine


The Migraine Trust ← helpfully, this one has a “Calm mode” to tone down the colorscheme of the website!

Particularly useful from the above site are its pages:

Take care!

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