Migraine Myth: Migraine is Just a Headache

Written by Jessica Puterbaugh | October 17, 2023

One of the hardest things that people with migraine live with is stigma, and much of that stigma comes from the myth that migraine is “just a headache.” What many people still don’t realize is that migraine is so much more than just a headache. While head pain is often the most notable migraine symptom, it is far from the only one, and in some instances there may not even be head pain. In fact, migraine is a complex neurological disorder with a wide range of symptoms that vary from person to person and attack to attack. Research is even being done currently looking at different phenotypes of migraine – more about that coming in a future blog!

Migraine is in the top ten most disabling diseases worldwide, yet it is highly stigmatized, often misdiagnosed, and widely undertreated. Migraine can affect all aspects of a person’s life, including taking a heavy toll at work, school, and relationships with families and friends. Many people with migraine have a severely diminished quality of life as a result of living with this often debilitating disease.

Beyond the Headache

Woman with dark hair sitting on a couch with a gray blanket wrapped around her shoulders holding the center of her forehead, seemingly in painMigraine symptoms vary greatly. They can be different depending on what type of migraine you have, what stage of an attack you are in (prodrome, aura, attack, postdrome), and frustratingly, can change over time. Symptoms can also happen in the interictal period between attacks. Some can be quite debilitating, while others are more of a nuisance, though even “nuisance” symptoms can be highly impactful when they last for a long time or are combined with others. Migraine can often feel like a full body experience.

The hallmark symptoms typically used to identify and diagnose migraine are head painnausea and vomiting, and sensitivity to light and sound. But there are a host of other symptoms that can come along for the ride. These include but are not limited to:

  • Face and neck pain
  • Body aches and pain
  • Abdominal pain, and other GI issues
  • Brain fog
  • Fatigue/exhaustion
  • Visual disturbances
  • Speech changes
  • Sensitivity to scents
  • Dizziness and vertigo
  • Mood changes—irritability, anxiety and/or depression
  • Numbness, paralysis and tingling
  • Tinnitus
  • Nasal/Sinus Congestion
  • Yawning
  • Increased thirst/dry mouth
  • Swollen, droopy, or watery eyes

Could My Headaches Be Migraine?

Although there is a lot of research to find biomarkers and other diagnostic indications for migraine, currently it relies on a clinical diagnosis. That means healthcare providers must rely on a patient’s unique pattern of symptoms while ruling out other conditions. Since migraine symptoms vary so much, this can be very difficult and take a long time, which requires vigilance on both the part of the patient and the doctor. In addition, since head pain and other migraine symptoms are often also symptoms of other conditions, patients frequently undergo many tests to first rule out other things.

If you’re wondering if your headaches may actually be migraine, consider the symptoms listed below. You can take our “Do I Have Migraine?” quiz here.

  1. Nausea and/or vomiting
  2. Pain is worse on one side
  3. Pain is pounding, pulsing, throbbing
  4. Pain is moderate or severe
  5. Pain is made worse by movement
  6. Visual disturbances
  7. Increased light sensitivity
  8. Increased sound sensitivity
  9. Movement sensitivity
  10. Limited ability to work or function

If you believe you have migraine, talk with your doctor. The sooner you can start proper treatment options, the more likely you are to be able reduce the risk of your pain becoming chronic. We recommend seeing a certified headache specialist as they will be the most knowledgeable about migraine and other headache disorders, as well as the most up to date on treatments.

Let Us Know

In what ways is your migraine more than just a headache? Do you have any tips on how to explain this to the people in your life?

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