Is It Time for a New Migraine Doctor?

Most of us begin treatment our Migraines with our family doctors, which is the logical thing to do. They know us, our medical history, and our needs best. Unfortunately, many of our family doctors quickly run out of ideas for treating us. Their training in treating Migraine and other headache disorders is limited, and with all the various illnesses they treat, it’s difficult for them to stay current in every specialized field. If their attempts at devising a successful treatment plan for you don’t meet with success in a reasonable period of time, a referral to a specialist is in order. Your doctor may suggest this before you do. If not, don’t hesitate to ask for a referral to a neurologist or a Migraine specialist. This brings me to an interesting point: Neurologists aren’t necessarily Migraine specialists, and Migraine specialists aren’t necessarily neurologists. Seeing a neurologist is a reasonable step, but many of us find that a time comes when we need to find a true Migraine specialist.

Changing doctors or adding a new doctor to our team can be a difficult decision. There can be some emotional attachments that make it difficult too. Here are some points to remember:

  • No doctor, regardless of how good they are, is the right doctor for everyone.
  • We can’t let the fact that we like a doctor tie us to him or her if he or she isn’t able to help us.
  • Good and caring doctors understand when patients want a second opinion.

When is it time to add a specialist or change doctors?

When our doctor doesn’t like to answer questions.

Some doctors don’t like to answer questions, and they don’t want their patients looking for information on the Internet. Too bad. Dr. William B. Young, of the Jefferson Headache Center in Philadelphia, once said to me, “An educated patient is a better patient. I’d far rather have a treatment partner than a dish rag.” He went on to comment that Migraineurs need to learn about their Migraines, partly because we have to make our own treatment decisions when we have a Migraine. We can’t call our doctor every time we have a Migraine, so we need to decide when to take our medications, and sometimes, which medication to take. We can’t do that if we aren’t educated about our Migraines. As for information on the Internet, yes, there are some sites with bad information. How to determine which sites are accurate is a topic for another time. For now, suffice it to say that there are excellent sites too.

When our doctors aren’t up-to-date or what they say is inaccurate.

Some doctors haven’t learned anything new about Migraines since medical school. Others have learned some, but aren’t keeping up with research and information in the field. If that applies to our doctor, it’s time for a change. Here are a few examples:

  • Doctors who say that Migraines are “vascular headaches.” This theory has been disproven repeatedly. Changes in the blood vessels of the brain may or may not occur, and when they do, they occur after other events.
  • Doctors who don’t know about the various medications used for Migraine prevention. There are now over 100 in use.
  • Doctors who are still prescribing pain medications for when we get a Migraine rather than looking at the Migraine abortive medications such as the triptans (Imitrex, Maxalt, Zomig, etc.) and the ergotamines (Migranal Nasal Spray and D.H.E. 45 subcutaneous injections.

When the doctor offers no plan for getting help after hours, on weekends, and during holidays and their vacations.

No, we can’t expect our doctors to be available to us every hour of every day. We can, however, reasonably expect them to have a plan in place for times when we need help outside of regular office hours.

When we don’t make progress in our Migraine management after a reasonable time.

Obviously, it’s not realistic to expect any doctor to hand us an effective Migraine management and treatment plan immediately. This takes time and patience. If, after a length of time, we’re not making progress, it may be that the doctor we’re seeing isn’t the right one for us, and it’s time to move on. How long we work with a doctor before changing varies from one case to another.

When the doctor’s staff is a problem.

Many people have told me of instances where office staff members have been rude or dismissive, didn’t relay messages to the doctors, or were problematic in other ways. If this happens, we need to find a way to let the doctor know there’s a problem. Until they investigate, doctors will usually hesitate to say much about their staff members, but if the problem continues, and it’s hindering our care, there’s often not much choice but to change doctors.

Wrapping It Up:

The selection of doctors is one of the most important aspects of our health care. We literally put our lives in doctors’ hands. If you’re having trouble bringing yourself to change doctors, remember that.

We need to do a bit of homework when choosing a new doctor for our Migraines. There are doctors who call themselves Migraine specialists when, in fact, they know no more about Migraine disease and its treatment than the “average doctor.” One of the best ways to choose a doctor is to choose one who comes recommended by his or her patients. There are several well known Migraine and headache clinics, but it’s better to choose a specific doctor rather than choosing a clinic or facility. It is, after all, the doctor who works with us to manage our Migraines. It’s the doctor who really makes the difference.

Always remember these points:

  • The person with the most at stake gets to be in charge. When it comes to our health, the person with the most at stake isn’t the doctor. It’s us.
  • Optimal health care can be achieved only when patients are educated about their health and patients and physicians work together as treatment partners in an atmosphere of mutual respect.

If you find the decision to find a new doctor difficult, remember the two points above. If you know it’s time for a change, but you need a bit of a “pep talk,” leave a reply below, please.

It can take time and patience, but we no longer have to just live with difficult Migraines that rob us of our health and quality of life.

If you need help finding a Migraine specialist, take a look at my listing of Patient Recommended Migraine and Headache Specialists.

Editor’s Note: You can also view specialist search directories from the The Migraine Research Foundation, National Headache Foundation, and American Headache Society here: Looking For A Migraine Specialist?

Last updated December 11, 2010

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The Migraine.com 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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