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Severe Migraine Specialist Shortage Limits Care

Severe Migraine Specialist Shortage Limits Care

To receive the best possible treatment for Migraine Disease, it is essential for patients to be under the care of a doctor who specializes in treating patients with headache disorders. Unfortunately, there are very few of them overall and access can be even more limited based on where you live in the United States.

At the 2013 International Headache Congress, researchers presented information about the number of headache disorders specialists, the expected numbers of patients living with episodic and chronic Migraine in the US and the ratios of doctors and patients both overall and on a state-by-state basis.

The United Council of Neurologic Subspecialties (UCNS) certifies physicians with special expertise and knowledge in treatment of headache disorders. As of the time of the research study, there were 416 UCNS-certified headache specialists practicing in the entire United States. Physicians who want to become UCNS certified are required to have completed an accredited fellowship and sit for the UCNS exam.

The research team projects the total US Migraine population of people ages 12+ will be 11.79% of the total population. This equates to 416 specialists to treat more than 30 million Migraineurs. The expected chronic Migraine population of people ages 12+ will be 0.91% of the total population. This equate to 416 specialists to treat more than two million people with chronic Migraine.

But the state-by-state analysis is probably more important information because as patients we need access to the specialists that do exist and geography is a huge barrier.

The states with the most specialists are:

  • New York (56)
  • California (29)
  • Ohio (29)
  • Texas (25)
  • Florida (24)
  • Pennsylvania (23)

The states with the best specialist to patient ratios are:

  • District of Columbia
  • New Hampshire
  • New York
  • Nebraska

After states with zero specialists, the states with the worst specialist to patient ratios are:

  • Oregon
  • Mississippi
  • Arkansas
  • Kansas

The researchers call for more accredited fellowships as one of the most important ways to increase the number of UCNS-certified headache specialists. Many stakeholders also believe if more research funding is allocated to Migraine and headache disorders more talented physicians will be motivated to enter the field.1

Find the list of doctors who are UCNS-certified in Headache Medicine at this link:

UCNS Diplomates in Headache Medicine

View references below

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.

1. Noah L. Rosen and Emily Mauser. "So Many Migraines, So Few Specialists: Analysis of the Geographic Location of United Council for Neurologic Subspecialties (UCNS) Certified Headache Specialists Compared to USA Headache Demographics." International Headache Congress 2013. Abstract P201.


  • Nonster
    5 years ago

    A correction to my comment….
    I see Dr. Dodick not Dr. Donich

  • Nonster
    5 years ago

    I live in Montana which has no headache specialists. I travel to Phoenix Mayo clinic and am a patient of Dr. Donich with the headache clinic there. He has provided me with great care and compassion. He also shares his results and what follow up care should be done with my neuro in MT. I know everyone doesn’t have the ability to travel, but if you do it is worth the time and money to do it as migraine specialists have the knowledge to try different therapies that my neuro said he hadn’t thought of trying. This was a very informative article!

  • ithurts99
    6 years ago

    ain’t that the truth? After finally finding a seriously good specialist (not in my state) she’s going to retire. We have in my part of my state three neurologists for 100,000 people (yep, you read it right) and they aren’t headache specialists. Thanks for a great article.

  • Sevigne Hager
    6 years ago

    Where can You find the list of the migraine doctors?

  • Diana-Lee author
    6 years ago

    Here is a link to the UCNS list:

  • Dawn Lloyd
    6 years ago

    Migraine specialist? Never, ever heard of such a doctor in 40 years of being treated for migraines. Neurologist should have more than general knowledge in treating migraines. Unfortunately, they don’t have all the answers. It’s trial and error, no matter if it’s a specialist, regular doctor, naturopath, or self treatment/experimentation.

    For as many doctors I’ve seen over the years, I still don’t know the cause of my migraines nor have I found anything that reduces the frequency. Sumatriptin is the only thing that relieves the pain and I’m grateful for that.

    Family practioners have helped me more than any specialist I’ve seen and are usually more caring, patient, understand and compassionate. Regular follow-up with a good family practioner can produce better results than intermittent visits to specialist that don’t know your history.

  • Diana-Lee author
    6 years ago

    Despite having a wonderful relationship with my primary care phyisican, I am still a big believer in headache specialists. Unfortunately I live in a state with none. Luckily, I have help from my family so I can travel to get better treatment.

    The point of UCNS specialization is that the neurologist in question has demonstrated their specialized knowledge in treating headache disorders, including Migraine.

    That being said, there are doctors all across the country in all different specialties, including family practice, primary care and neurology, with specialized knowledge in treating headache disorders without the UCNS certification because it wasn’t available at the beginning of their careers.

    Since you still haven’t found answers in 40 years of searching, you might benefit from seeing a true headache disorders specialist. That wouldn’t mean giving up your good relationship with your current doctors. It would be an addition.

    Good luck.

  • clemmie
    6 years ago

    Thanks for the article, Diana. I am only aware of 4 migraine specialists in CA–can you tell me where you read that there are 39 (and do you have a link to the list of specialists? I am in the market. There is only one within 2 hours of me and he has given me incorrect information and gets horrendous patient ratings-looking for another. Thank you for your help.

  • Diana-Lee author
    6 years ago

    There is a link to the research study in the references to this article, and you can access the list of UCNS certified headache specialists here:

    I hope this helps you find the right specialist! Best of luck.

  • Dr Whyte
    6 years ago

    The only point I will make about this is that the Fellowship requirement (1 year of extra training) is a more recent requirement.

  • Diana-Lee author
    6 years ago

    Yes, thank you for mentioning that. There are many great docs who treat headache disorders patients without certification because they didn’t have fellowships, and doctors who were certified a few years ago didn’t necessarily do a fellowship.

  • janenez
    6 years ago

    I guess we don’t need specialists anymore – According to dozens of new billboards around my town – “Headaches are solved!” – some doctors office in town is pushing Botox as a “cure for headaches and migraine!” It’s driving me crazy because all my well meaning friends can’t wait to tell me about it!

  • Diana-Lee author
    6 years ago

    If only, right?! Botox is such a great help to many, but it’s hard not to resent the focus on it when you’ve tried it without success. Like me! 🙂

  • merrie
    6 years ago

    What about maine? There is only one HA Dr, and he is very old and not up to date with stuff.

  • Diana-Lee author
    6 years ago

    There are two doctors listed for Maine on the UCNS list, which you can find here:

    Good luck. I hope you’re able to find someone good!

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