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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.

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.

Mathew, P. G. (2014), A Critical Evaluation of Migraine Trigger Site Deactivation Surgery. Headache: The Journal of Head and Face Pain, 54: 142–152. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/head.12218/abstract

Comments

  • SteelCityMagnolia
    5 years ago

    Oh My Goodness! This article is so true and is the exact reason I do not have a primary care physician. I used to, but not anymore. As a migraine sufferer from age 6 (or possibly even earlier, I can’t remember), I knew very well what I was experiencing. I had moved and needed a new PCP. The doctor I chose told me my migraines were “all in my head” and just a “problem of being female.” He told me that my claims of weather changes triggering brain-exploding migraines were impossible and that weather had nothing to do with it. He said it was my way of getting out of things I didn’t want to do. So I changed doctors. The next doctor I went to gave me prescriptions for 3 potent narcotics on my very first visit with instructions to take up to 4 doses of the 3 in 24 hours. He could have killed me had I followed his instructions. I went to another doctor who had a similar MO of writing a scrip for the “narcotic du jour” and then accused me of being addicted when I complained how awful one dose would make me feel (being unable to get off the couch because I couldn’t feel or move my legs, waking the house up screaming from very vivid, horrible nightmares, constant brain fog — and he thought I wanted MORE narcotics???) Finally, after not being able to even get a referral, I took myself, at my cost, to a neurologist who specializes in migraines. Best money I ever spent! I could have KISSED the guy when he told me that he couldn’t CURE my migraines and make them go away completely, but he could help me manage them to where I could live as much of a normal life as possible with as few attacks as possible. I am definitely not migraine-free. But going from 25 migraine days a month to only 5 migraine days a month has been a godsend to me. I now feel like I have a life and that my family doesn’t have to work their lives around the fact that I might or might not be down with a migraine.

  • Janet
    5 years ago

    Kerrie
    Thank you. I sort of thought this article was a personal outreach to me. I heed your warning and expect little or nothing from a ketogenic diet except I might get a few less migraines….the restrictions are very hard to follow and frustration was present beforehand ..and depression from failure after failure…but I have never been promised a cure, however I have been told twice that I’m the only person that was not even helped a little by 2 different treatments…2 different headache specialists …also cause for depression just to hear those words…and also the ever present.”..you’re the most difficult case I’ve ever had and some like you just can’t be helped”…. More reason to cry at night…like we’re not isolated enough and haven’t disappointed those closest to us a gazillion times over the years.

    Sadly your article rings truths for me but if I even try to share with those in my life, your words will fall on deaf ears.

    Blessings
    Janet

  • Penny
    5 years ago

    pennyslick3914@gmail.com
    Recently I was sent to a pain clinic at the University of Michigan in An Arbor Michigan . Not only have I suffered with migraines for going on 30 yrs but have been diagnosed with Limbgirdal Muscular Dystrophy and degenerative disc disease . Since I was a small child it seems the issues have added up , one after the other. My new Dr. gave me some information about Mind Body Sydrome . It occurs to many people who had abuse , mental and physical early in life and they don’t even realize it , until they put it together with what happened at the time and the emotions they felt , all kinds of Mind and Body Issues occur , such as chronic migraines , irritable bowl , chronic neck and back pain and many other issues. I’m currently working to try and heal some of these things out with a book called Unlearn Your Pain.by Howard Schubiner,MD.

  • cancan
    5 years ago

    Kerrie, I am so happy to see you post this blog!!! I have known this for many years but never had the where-with-all to get it out to those who suffer!!! I knew 40 years ago I was not going to be cured, though I kept searching for help, just to be able to cope better WITHOUT taking ANY meds! That was impossible for me since my pain level is so high, but I still searched and searched, actually I think wearing my poor husband down but he always stuck by me when at all possible, hoping we could at least find SOMETHING better! I have so many “triggers”, it is unbelievable…and my husband knows them all! How fortunate I am….since we were 15/16 years old, we will celebrate our 54th wedding anniversary in May! No cure in 72 years and still waiting, but when it is a hereditary thing and I realized that, finally, I knew I would have to cope the best way possible!!! Thanks Kerrie! ❤Carolyn (cancan)

  • Katie M. Golden moderator
    5 years ago

    Such a great point, Kerrie! For so long, I thought I was going to be cured. I was sure that the next treatment was going to make it all go away. Until I found a Headache Specialist who gave it to me straight. I finally began to understand what having chronic migraines meant. And she said, even if this drug or this treatment helped, a trigger will still be a trigger. That doesn’t go away. So true, so true.

  • Luna
    5 years ago

    Well said, Kerrie. Have always been leary of snake oil salesmen so have not wasted $ on online products that I can’t find reputable sources telling the pros and cons of the product. Went to a Naturopathic Physician that just knew she could help. When her protocol didn’t help she recommended counseling to find out why I didn’t want to get better. Like that’s what is really going on. The let down when something doesn’t work that you know is only a possibility is bad enough so the crash after having high hopes and nothing works can be quite devastating.

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