The Migraine "Cure"
Be wary of any health care provider who says their treatment will definitely reduce your migraine attacks and never, never trust anyone who says they have a migraine cure. These are my golden rules of migraine treatment.
Providers who are positive that their treatment will reduce or stop your migraines usually convey this message on the first or second appointment – when they don’t know you or your treatment history well enough to have any solid idea if their approach will do anything for you. Maybe it has worked for a lot of their migraine patients, maybe it will even work for you. But telling a patient that a treatment certainly will help and then having it not work gives a person false hope that crashes into crushing disappointment.
Promising to cure migraine is even worse.
There is no cure for migraine. You might find a treatment that keeps you from having another migraine attack for the rest of your life, but you will not be cured of migraine. Migraine is a lifelong genetic neurological disorder. If you’re in the 18% of people who have migraine, you will always have migraine. You may not have migraine attacks, but the underlying disorder will always be there.
Anyone who tells you that they (or their method, book or website) can cure you either is selling snake oil or doesn’t understand the science of migraine, neither of which bodes well for the patient.
Migraineurs are an easy target. We want our lives to stop being disrupted by pain, nausea, dizziness, stroke-like symptoms, or whatever our personal constellation of symptoms includes. Many of us will do whatever it takes to reduce the frequency or severity of our migraine attacks.
Cure-peddlers see our desperation as an opportunity. They prey on us, promising that they can make our greatest desires come to fruition – a promise that’s typically based on shoddy or nonexistent science. When a treatment fails, they blame the patient. Even worse, they aren’t around to pick up the pieces when a person is devastated that this “cure” doesn’t work for them.
This potential for devastation should not be underestimated. In the February issue of the journal Headache, a headache specialist recounts the story of a patient who was convinced that a surgery would stop his pain. After the surgery failed, the patient took his own life.1 The fact that the patient was also depressed shouldn’t make the outcome any less worrisome for the rest of us since migraine and depression often go hand-in-hand. The emotional agony I have endured after failed treatments also tells me that disappointment can take an exacting toll on a person already ravaged by migraine.
Ethical health care providers are honest with their patients. Instead of promising an outcome they can’t guarantee, they say the approach has helped many patients and it’s worth trying. They never, never, never use the word cure (unless it is to say there is no cure for migraine). My decades of experience with chronic migraine have taught me to respect anyone who says their approach may or may not work, to take any assurance of effective treatment with a grain of salt, and to run far away from anyone who promises a cure.
Have you taken our Migraine In America Survey yet?