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A Migraine Specialist Dispels Common Migraine Myths and Misconceptions

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There are a lot of myths about migraines. Some of them involve the idea that you have a strong degree of control over when migraine happens. I think that the worst of all the common migraine myths or misperceptions is, first and foremost, that it’s your fault. It absolutely isn’t.

I think there’s a lot of stigma in general with regard to pain issues, but stigma with regard to migraine is, unfortunately, a strong force to fight against. This is why it’s important to spread as much information about migraine as possible. The only way to fight stigma is to educate those who do not experience migraine.

Myth: Migraine is Just a ‘Headache’ 

Another misconception about migraine is that every kind of headache is a migraine. Migraine is a very specific kind of headache. Migraine has very specific diagnostic criteria, and everyone should discuss exactly what it is they experience with their health care provider to determine if what they actually have is migraine. If you have something else and it’s not migraine, it needs to be treated differently.

Migraine is not “just a headache.” Migraine usually has specific kinds of qualities like throbbing or pulsing. But besides the pain — which can last for days at a time — there are a number of non-pain symptoms as well, usually a sensitivity to things like lights and sounds. A lot of times, there’s nausea and vomiting, too.

It’s also wrongfully assumed that taking more medicines can improve migraine. The truth is that this is something you have to discuss with your physician, because for many people, taking a lot of abortive or as-needed medications can lead to an increase in the frequency and severity of migraine.

Myth: Daith Piercings Treat Migraine

Some myths about migraine are related to the use of nonmedical intervention. People sometimes think that the answer to migraine has to be some kind of medication with all kinds of side effects, but the truth is that many alternative or other nonmedical treatments have a scientific basis for the prevention of migraine. Some of these things can be very beneficial, specifically biofeedback and cognitive behavioral therapy.

While there are definitely some helpful preventive alternative treatments, how do you know the thing that you’re doing has a basis in science? It could be that the thing you’re doing is like daith piercing — an ear piercing that passes through the ear’s innermost cartilage fold and has no medical or scientific basis supporting it as a migraine treatment. I’ve even heard of people implanting things underneath their skin in areas where acupuncture can be helpful.

The truth is everyone who’s a specialist in headache understands what the potential side effects are. Many times, we’ll actually recommend appropriate alternative treatments.

Dispelling Misconceptions

If you live with migraine, know that you are not alone. One major migraine misconception is that nobody understands what you’re going through. There are over 1 billion people worldwide who have migraine, and they need to know that they’re not alone. As physicians who specialize in migraine and headache disorders — most of whom experience migraine ourselves — we definitely understand what it is that you’re going through.

But that doesn’t mean we need to stop working to dispel other misconceptions about migraine. Enlightening people who don’t have migraine, and reminding those with it that it’s not their fault is the best way to fight stigma.

Dr. Berk is a neurologist and an Assistant Professor at the Department of Neurology and Division of Headache Medicine at NYU Langone Health. He works closely with the American Migraine Foundation to educate others about migraine. 

Originally published: October 25, 2019
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