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Migraines, not really "headaches."

Much of understanding Migraine is in HOW we say it.


Updated: April 15, 2006

We've talked before about the Migraine myths and trying to overcome the misinformation and stigma that resulted from them. A very common ongoing topic of discussion among Migraineurs is the dilemma of family, friends, and co-workers not understanding how debilitating Migraine can be. How do we help those closest to us understand that a Migraine isn't anything like the headaches they may have experienced, that we often can't just pop a pill and keep going?

While this may not seem like such a big problem on the surface, the inability or difficulty of others to understand Migraine has actually been a primary factor in divorce, loss of employment, and other very destructive and traumatic life events.

The basic problem may well stem from not communicating this one basic fact: A migraine is not a headache. Yes, you read that correctly. A Migraine is not a headache. 

Whether you call it "Migraine,' "Migraine Disease," or "Migraine Disorder," Migraine is actually a recurrent, episodic, genetic, neurological disease. What does that mean? It means that Migraineurs have a genuine neurological disease -- all the time. 

When Migraineurs have a Migraine episode or attack, the headache is just one symptom of the episode. It is not the actual episode. The point is, the term "Migraine headache" is not only incorrect, it's misleading, and may be a source of the misunderstanding of Migraine. As Migraineurs, we don't experience "Migraine headaches;" we experience "Migraine episodes" or "Migraine attacks."  

It might help to draw a comparison to epilepsy. It, too, is a recurrent neurological disorder. People with epilepsy have the disorder all the time, even when they're not actively having episodes. The goal for their medical care is to keep the disorder controlled to avoid episodes. These episodes can have different symptoms. Probably the most commonly thought of is a seizure with tremors. When an episode occurs, there are medications for treatment. There are also medications to try to avoid as many episodes as possible.

Such is the case with Migraine. The goal for our medical care is to prevent episodes. Migraine episodes can have different symptoms. The most commonly thought of symptom is headache, but some people have very vivid aura symptoms without the headache or other types of Migraine episodes.

If you're not a Migraineur, I hope this will give you a bit of perspective on Migraine disease. You might also find the article, Anatomy of a Migraine, helpful.

If you are a Migraineur, I propose that we resolve to not say "Migraine headache" in the future, but to say "Migraine episode" or "Migraine attack." Let's change our own way of thinking, and hope it's contagious. It may seem like a small step, but let's see if we can't make it a step toward helping those close to us understand Migraine just that much better.

  1. About.com
  2. Health
  3. Headaches & Migraines
  4. Migraine 101
  5. Migraine Disease
  6. Migraines, not really "headaches." Migraine is a genetic neurological disease. About Headaches and Migraine

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