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8 Myths About Migraine That Make It Even Harder to Live With

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Migraine is a common yet serious neurological disease that affects approximately 39 million people in the United States. There are multiple types and variations of migraine that each have their own diagnostic criteria and unique set of symptoms, so the condition may look different for every person.

Despite its prevalence, many people still don’t understand the reality of migraine and what it’s like to live with the condition, and this lack of understanding can unfortunately give way to misconceptions or assumptions that are not just inaccurate, but hurtful. Living with a lifelong disease can already be incredibly difficult to manage. But add on the stigmas and misunderstandings surrounding the condition, and navigating life as a migraineur can become even tougher.

We wanted to correct some of the misconceptions surrounding migraine, so we asked our Mighty community to share the “myths” they’ve heard that make it even harder to live with the condition. Breaking down these stigmas is not only an important part of promoting general understanding and awareness, but could eventually lead to more research and better treatment options for those with migraine.

Myth #1: A migraine is “just a headache.”

“‘It’s just a headache.’ Feels more like systemic meltdown… And that it starts and ends with the pain. A couple days of feeling rotten and confused. Then potentially days and days of all the symptoms. Then a good four days of confusion, mood swings and haziness – each one can steal a week easily even if I am only [in] acute pain for 30 percent of that.” – Jo B.

[People think] it’s just a headache. That it’s just pain in the head (it’s much more or not even that at all sometimes).” – Grace B.

Simply the fact that everybody thinks ‘it’s just a headache’ and doesn’t get how much it actually hurts… or the classic: ‘so if you’re just having a headache, why are you closing your eyes and puking so much’…” – EL Tekkia E.I.

Reality: Migraine is a complex neurological disorder that can manifest in many different ways and produce a wide variety of symptoms. While head pain can certainly be a serious and debilitating symptom of migraine, it is not the only one – and there are some types of migraine in which a headache is not present at all.

Myth #2: A migraine can be easily remedied with over-the-counter pain medication.

“[People think] it’s just a headache and that it will ever go away. There is no known cure for migraine. There are medications, but my migraines basically laugh in the face of triptans and anything over-the-counter.” – Lauren S.

[A myth is] that acetaminophen or ibuprofen works to make it go away.” – Grace B.

[People think] Excedrin will fix it just like the commercials say. Nope! I had to try several different prescription medications until I found one that worked. There are others that have migraines that don’t stop even with going to the emergency room.” – Elyse B.

Reality: While some people may find a bit of relief in pain medications, over-the-counter or otherwise, migraine has no cure or “one-size-fits-all” treatment. Managing the symptoms of migraine often requires a lot of trial and error with various combinations of medications, treatments and therapies that you and your doctor have decided upon. Even if pain medication helps a person with migraine find some measure of relief, it is important to remember that it’s not a cure.

Myth #3: You can just ignore your migraine and “push through.”

“[A myth is] that you can just ‘push through.’ They don’t realize it makes you vomit, can’t see and the slightest movement makes it feel like your head is separating from your neck.” – Cassie L.

[People think] you can just get over it. That it’s just a headache. That I ‘should’ be able to power through. That migraine doesn’t affect your life in a major way. That I’m just a girl who’s overreacting to a ‘little headache.’” – Kelsey W.

Reality: While some people do “push through” occasionally when they have a migraine (see Myth #4), we can’t expect everyone to always do the same. Migraine can be a debilitating and disabling disease, and it simply may not be possible to “ignore” your symptoms or “push through” the pain.

Myth #4: If you really have a migraine, you shouldn’t be able to leave your house and go about your day.

[They think] I have no right to be out [of] the house or at work with a migraine. Eh no, I have to get on with life.” – Shiree H.

Just because I have a migraine doesn’t mean I’m going to lay down and stop doing what needs to be done. I don’t have that luxury. Yes, sometimes they are so bad I literally can’t stand up, but there are other times when I don’t get that option. Just because I’m doing my job doesn’t mean I’m not dying in pain inside.” – Sharayah W.

They aren’t always ‘stuck in bed’ migraines. Some migraines I can deal with and still kinda function (zombie-like, but still function), but last for days/weeks/months.” – Leigh V.

Reality: While migraine can often be debilitating and prevent people from doing certain activities, sometimes people may have no choice but to go into work, or get up to take care of their kids, or venture out to the store for some basic necessities. Just because you may see someone up and about doesn’t mean they aren’t dealing with migraine symptoms.

Myth #5: A migraine only lasts for a few hours, or up to a day.

“[A myth is] it only lasts a day. Very few people realize that migraines can last a really long time. Sometimes I don’t even want to sleep for fear of missing a dose of medication and it getting even worse.” – Cassie L.

“It will take time to go. Be quiet, sit by [my] side but you can’t talk or switch on the light as it hurts… That it may remain constant [for] three days.” – Ritika R.V.

The myth that they can’t last several days and that the meds prescribed always work. I’m on the third day of this migraine and meds aren’t working. Also it effects my stomach!” – Tina R.

Reality: A migraine typically lasts between four and 72 hours, but those with chronic migraine may experience migraines that last weeks, months or even years.

Myth #6: A migraine is a psychological disorder.

Myth: Migraine is psychological. Fact: Migraine is a neurological disease resulting in problems with how the brain functions.” – Bridget W.

Reality: Some of those with migraine, like with other chronic illnesses, may be accused of “faking” their symptoms – a behavior commonly associated with Munchausen syndrome, a mental illness in which a person behaves as though they have a disorder they do not – and thus get told, “It’s all in your head.” But migraine is a neurological disorder, not a psychological disorder, and therefore affects the mind and body in a different way.

Myth #7: Making various lifestyle changes will cure your migraines.

[A myth is] that exercising will get rid of my migraines. It doesn’t work that way.” – Lindsey H.

[People think] those remedies or hacks you see circulating the internet will make it all better. A special drink, smoothie, diet cleanse, eating almonds or apple seeds, a piercing, inhaling baby soap, sniffing a potato or sitting on the sink with frozen peas on your neck and feet in warm water is not going to eliminate migraine. In fact, many of the ‘remedies’ involving food actually contain known migraine triggers. I have tried it all, and if I didn’t have this disabling neurological condition that affects every aspect of my life, I would not be seeing specialists for years to try to control it.” – Gina F.

Reality: Many people with migraine may find that certain lifestyle changes, such as altering their diet or exercise routine, make a huge difference in the intensity and frequency of their symptoms. But it is inaccurate and can even be dangerous to promote certain lifestyle changes or remedies as the “magic cure” that will make a person’s migraine disappear. There is no cure or “one-size-fits-all” treatment for migraine.

Myth #8: Everyone experiences migraine the same way.

[A myth is] there’s only one type of migraine and all treatment helps everyone, if it doesn’t help you then you’re obviously making it all up.” – Leanne H.

A lot of people think that all migraines are the same. But some people experience auras, some don’t. Some people are more light sensitive, some are more motion sensitive. Some people experience extreme nausea, some people experience hot flashes and cold chills. And migraine triggers can be just as varied: foods, lights (particularly fluorescent lights), loud sounds, barometric pressure and sometimes we can’t figure out if there was a trigger at all. And not knowing what triggered a migraine does not make it any less valid or painful.” – Tracy S.

Reality: There are many different types of migraine, each with their own unique set of symptoms and diagnostic criteria, and the individuals who have migraine are even more unique and varied. While many share similar symptoms and side effects, no two people experience migraine exactly the same. Taking the time to listen to and understand one another can go a long way.

Originally published: August 6, 2018
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