Migraine is a complex disease that can severely impact one’s health and overall quality of life. While we know migraine is so much more than just a headache, many people are not aware that migraine can worsen over time, or chronify. Preventing migraine from becoming chronic is not always possible, but there are steps we can take to mitigate its progression. Educating ourselves and others, and seeking timely and effective treatments are key to minimizing the risk of chronification.
How Does Migraine Become Chronic?
Migraine is a vicious cycle. Each time you have a migraine attack, your nervous system becomes more sensitive to pain stimuli, which makes it likely that you will have future attacks. Your attacks increase in frequency and your pain worsens and becomes harder to treat. As a result, it is possible to progress from low frequency episodic migraine to high frequency episodic to chronic migraine.
The exact reasons migraine progresses are not fully understood. And it’s not necessarily a one-way direction. But research shows there are several bi-directional risk factors that make chronification more likely. These include:
- Ineffective, inappropriate or lack of preventive treatments
- Using too many acute/abortive medications to treat migraine attacks
- Having comorbid pain and/or psychiatric disorders
- Suffering traumatic or stressful life events
How Can You Educate Yourself?
Learning as much as you can about migraine and appropriate treatment options is an important first step in lowering your risk of disease chronification. If you are experiencing 4 or more migraine days per month OR any of the following, it’s time to talk with your doctor about preventive treatment:
- Attacks are becoming more frequent
- Symptoms are worsening or changing
- Work, education, family and/or social life is affected
- Other health conditions are impacted
- Taking too many OTC medications (more than 2 per week)
Seeing a certified headache specialist can help reduce the risk of episodic migraine becoming chronic, and help you discover better ways to manage your attacks. Working with your doctor to build a preventive treatment toolbox can also help to reverse chronification if it is has already happened.
Preventing migraine from progressing requires us to be empowered patients. Learning to advocate for ourselves and our health is not easy and requires energy that we don’t always have. But with awareness and the right tools we can reduce the risk of chronic migraine and ensure a better quality of life.
Read more about chronic migraine, chronification process and risks here.