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Migraine Myths

Debunking the Myths, Misconceptions, and Misinformation About Migraine:

Just because migraine is common doesn't mean that it's normal.  Despite the out-dated myths that migraine is "all in your head", it is a real, legitimate, biologic syndrome that can be prevented, treated, and managed.  It does not mean that you are neurotic, weak, or have a mental illness.  It does not mean that patients with migraine are malingerers looking for excuses to get out of work or other responsibilities.  It does not mean that patients with migraines just like to take drugs.  It does mean that if you have severe headaches, particularly on one side of the head, with or without other symptoms, you should see a physician for the appropriate diagnosis and treatment.  Do this sooner rather than later.

Because migraine symptoms vary for each individual patient, making the diagnosis may be complicated.  In many patients, migraines may be preceded by certain warning symptoms or a "sense" that the attack is about to come; this is called an "aura".  Associated symptoms include one or more of the following: visual changes such as blurry vision, developing blind spots, or appearance of zigzag shapes; sudden sensitivity to light, smells, or noise; numbness and tingling in the arms; nausea, dizziness, or vomiting.  Some patients have no warning symptoms at all.

Once a migraine begins, it may last for several hours or even 2-3 days.  Typically, pain is on one side of the head, but it may spread to both sides before decreasing.  Many patients say that once a migraine begins, they must lie quietly in a darkened room until it resolves.

A 12-year old migraine sufferer wrote an excellent description of her experience, which sounds fairly typical:  "At first I was really scared because I didn't know what was going on in my head. My face feels like it's splitting in two.  I feel like barbed wire is going in and around my head with sharp points sticking in it.  I would like other(s) to know that if they experience migraine they are not alone."  They used to be alone in terms of therapy.  Now, the good news is that there are several excellent medicines available-by prescription and over-the-counter--which are proven to work for many patients in both preventing and treating migraines.  There is no "cure" for migraine, but there is hope.

Clearly, most migraine sufferers are not availing themselves of these medicines; physicians report that the average patient suffers from migraine for 3.5 years before seeking treatment!  According to the National Headache Foundation, migraine is such a pervasive problem, that 157 million workdays are lost each year in the US, at a cost of $17.2 billion. This does not factor in the social cost of migraine or the personal costs.  Migraine sufferers owe it to themselves, to their families, and to their jobs to see a physician for proper evaluation and treatment, even if it means taking a day off from work to do so.

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Created: 10/17/2000  -  Donnica Moore, M.D.

 According to the National Headache Foundation, migraine is such a pervasive problem, that 157 million workdays are lost each year in the US, at a cost of $17.2 billion. 

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