How Are Migraine Specialists Different?

If your doctor isn't able to help you with your migraines and/or headaches, seeing a migraine and headache specialist may well be your best option.

Questions to address

On the surface, that may seem like a simple enough statement, but it raises a couple of questions that should be addressed:

  1. What kind of doctor is a migraine and headache specialist?
  2. What makes a migraine and headache specialist different from other doctors?

Let's take a look at each of those questions...

What is a migraine and headache specialist?

Since migraine is a neurological disease, it would seem logical that neurologists would be migraine and headache specialists. The reality is, however, that neurologists aren't necessarily migraine and headache specialists, and migraine and headache specialists aren't necessarily neurologists. Stop and think about it. Neurologists can be said to be the "GPs of all things neurological." They treat a multitude of neurological disease, conditions, and injuries. Migraine and headache are only one small part of all of that. How could they truly be migraine and headache specialists?

Who becomes a specialist?

With proper training and experience, any type of physician can become a migraine and headache specialist. Yes, the majority of migraine and headache specialists (approximately 80%) are neurologists, but some of our best specialists aren't. They originally trained in internal medicine, family practice, psychiatry, or other medical fields.

What makes a Migraine and headache specialist different from other doctors?

What makes them different?

There are several ways in which migraine and headache specialists are different from other doctors. They...

  • are genuinely interested in migraine and other headache disorders and in the patients who have them.
  • are dedicated to helping patients with headache disorders, and they don't give up on a patient unless the patient gives up.
  • listen to their patients.
  • respect their patients and work with us as treatment partners, making decisions with us rather than for us.
  • belong to organizations such as the American Headache Society and the National Headache foundation, attend their conferences for continuing education opportunities, and network with other members.
  • read journals, books, and other materials, and participate in other activities to keep their skills and knowledge of the field current.
  • tend to focus their practice on patients with migraine and other headache disorders.
  • aren't afraid to say, "I don't know," or, "I don't know what to try next," then help us find someone who does.
  • may have, in addition to their residency, have elected to complete a subspecialty fellowship in headache medicine.
  • may have elected to sit for the exam to receive a subspecialty certification in Headache Medicine from the United Council for Neurologic Subspecialties.

My experience

From my personal experience and from the experiences others have shared with me, I highly recommend seeing a migraine and headache specialist if you and your doctor(s) are having difficulty treating and managing your migraines or headaches. At one time, I thought all neurologists were migraine specialists. I've lost track of how many neurologists I saw seeking help for my chronic migraines. Teaming up with a migraine specialist made all the difference for me, and we began making progress within the first six months of treatment.

Challenges to seeing a specialist

I'll tell you up-front that there can be a couple of logistical issues:

  • There aren't enough qualified specialists, so there may not be one located very close to your home.
  • Insurance companies have become so difficult to deal with that some specialists no longer accept insurance plans.

It was worth the inconveniences

Yes, those issues can be problematic, and I've had to deal with both of them. When I first needed a specialist, there were none in my state. My husband and I took two days and traveled eight hours, each direction, to Philadelphia several times a year for several years so I could see a specialist. There were multiple issues with our insurance company, and there were times when we just had to pay for my care as well as the hotel room and other travel expenses. It wasn't easy. We had to cut corners in our budget in other places. But, it was worth every hour, every mile, every inconvenience because that specialist knew what he was talking about, cared, and helped me get my life back.

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This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

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