Migraine or Migraines?

Last updated: November 2013

Which word is correct, migraine or migraines? The answer is both, though the two words have different meanings. Migraine without an S means the underlying neurological disorder. With an S on the end, migraines refer to the individual attacks that a person who has migraine experiences. A parallel without the confusing verbiage is epilepsy and seizures -- a person who has epilepsy has seizures, a person who has migraine has migraines.

Calling individual migraines migraine attacks is one way to work around the confounding wording. This is the generally accepted phrase and what I use despite not being thrilled with the concept of an "attack" -- it seems disempowering in a way I can't quite articulate. (I reserve the right to choose a new moniker if I ever figure out why "attack" doesn't sit right with me.) Migraine episode is another option, but to me "episode" has a hysterical woman undertone, which is a migraine stereotype we can't afford to perpetuate.

The media usually refer to migraine attacks as migraine headaches, which risks buoying the misguided belief that migraine is "just a headache." Not only is the pain of a migraine often much more severe than that typically associated with a headache, the other symptoms of an attack can be just as (or even more) debilitating than the pain. And, some people have migraine attacks without any head pain whatsoever. For all these reasons, tagging "headache" onto the end of migraine is neither accurate nor desirable.

The language of migraine is so convoluted and loaded it sometimes seems like any words we use could be misconstrued or offensive to someone. How do you refer to migraine (the disorder) or migraines (the attacks)? Do those words feel adequate and comfortable to you, or are you just going with the least problematic choices?

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