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Migraine or Migraines?

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?

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.


  • pīwakawaka
    6 years ago

    I too find it difficult to decide what terms to use. Too often people associate migraines to a severe headache, which as you mention is not always the case. So I avoid the term “migraine headache” like the plague.

    To me, “attack” implies something sudden and short term, neither of which always apply in my case. Although I can sometimes sense that an “attack” is imminent, often they creep up so slowly that others recognise an “attack” is under way before I do. Likewise, “attack” doesn’t seem appropriate for something that lasts for 3 days.

    Personally I’m comfortable with “episode” as it doesn’t seem to carry the baggage locally as it does in other parts of the English speaking world. But I avoid it on the Internet for that reason.

    It’s a pity that we don’t have a distinctive word that applies to a single migraine “attack”.

  • Michael Fernandez
    6 years ago

    Well worded article Kerrie I thoroughly enjoyed it as I too ask myself what terms to use and change them often in my blogs. I would say that I prefer migraine attacks the most to avoid any confusion as I completely agree with your thoughts on calling it an episode!

    I’ve said migraine headache at times I’m very guilty of it though it’s due to a discussion I had with Dr. Mark W. Green my headache specialist. He corrected me and continually reminds me that migraine is a term to gauge the most severe of headaches along with terms like cluster and such. I don’t fully agree but I respect his opinion as a top academic and doctor so I often feel torn between my migraine advocate self and my patient identity debating over that very thing.

    Thanks again for writing this I found the article to be immensely helpful!

  • pīwakawaka
    6 years ago

    So I guess many of my migraine “attacks” would not be classified as migraines at all by your headache specialist 🙂

    Photophobia, phonophobia, visual distortions, slurred speech, staggering, loss of language skills, loss of cognitive skills, muscle weakness on right side, confusion and disorientation, memory loss. My symptoms can appear very stroke like, while the pain level can vary from a minor background headache to a full scale throbbing pain that threatens to cause my head to explode at the slightest movement or sound.

  • simplygourdjus
    6 years ago

    great article!!

    I wish I could convince Social Security Disability this! I’ve been turned down twice! I’m starting to just give up everything.

  • Nancy Harris Bonk moderator
    6 years ago

    Hi simplygourdjus and Michael,

    You both may want to consider using an attorney for help with SSDI. There skill and guidance can be very worth while.

    Have you seen this information on SSDI;

    I hope this is helpful information,


  • Michael Fernandez
    6 years ago

    So sorry to hear that! I myself am struggling with getting on SSI, I was fired too early on from a job due to hospital visits for migraines so I don’t qualify for SSD being so young =/ Perhaps my recent diagnosis of Churg-Strauss Vasculitis which could cause my chronic migraines might work in my favor, we shall see.

    Anyways best of luck in the future I hope the SSD people show you some compassion, you deserve it as does anyone in chronic pain!

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