Skip to Accessibility Tools Skip to Content Skip to Footer

Top 10 Myths About Migraine

We’ve said this about Migraines before, and we’ll say it again — Myths and misconceptions still abound. And those myths and misconceptions cause us a great deal of trouble. They perpetuate themselves and feed the stigma associated with Migraines.

Let’s take a look at some of the most prevalent Migraine myths and the corresponding truths. Let’s arm ourselves with the truth so that when we hear these myths, we can do some myth busting.

 

Myth #1: A Migraine is just a bad headache.

Truth: Migraine is a neurological disease characterized by flare-ups most commonly called simply, “Migraines,” or “Migraine attacks.” The headache, when there is one, is only one of many possible symptoms of a Migraine attack. Migraine attacks can and do sometimes occur with no headache at all. When this occurs, they’re described as “silent” or “acephalgic Migraines.” There are four possible phases of a Migraine attack, and many possible symptoms. In fact, for a diagnosis of Migraine, there must be symptoms other than headache.

Myth #2: Migraines don’t last for days, and nobody has a Migraine every day.

Truth: The “typical” Migraine lasts from four to 72 hours, but Migraines can last longer. They sometimes last days, weeks, or even months. When they last longer than 72 hours, we need to contact our doctors. Unfortunately, some people do have Migraines nearly daily and even daily. Chronic Migraine (CM) is all too real. By definition, CM is having Migraines or tension-type headaches 15 or more days per month. The reality is that many people with CM have a Migraine or headache every day. Although the symptoms and pain levels of CM are similar to those of episodic Migraine (less than 15 days per month), studies have shown that the frequency of the Migraines dramatically increases the burden and causes CM to have significantly higher impact than episodic Migraine. Other studies have shown that the stigma associated with CM is also higher.

Myth #3: Migraines aren’t life-threatening, just annoying.

Truth: Although a Migraine itself may not be life-threatening, complications of Migraines and risk factors associated with Migraine can be. Studies have confirmed a link between Migraine and stroke and other cardiovascular diseases and events. Studies have also confirmed a link between Migraine and suicide. There is much that could be written on this topic, but consider just these two statistics.

  • “Greater than 1,400 more U.S. women with Migraine with aura die annually from cardiovascular diseases compared to women who do not have Migraine.”4
  • “Based on a sample of Americans, suicide attempts are three times more likely in individuals with Migraine with aura compared to those with no Migraine, whether or not major depression is also present.”4

Myth #4: Any doctor will recognize and properly treat Migraine.

Truth: Mainly due to a lack of adequate physician education, this is definitely a myth. It’s also a misconception that all neurologists are Migraine specialists. They’re not; nor are all Migraine specialists neurologists.

In a 2011 report, the World Health Organization stated, “Lack of knowledge among health-care providers is the principal clinical barrier to effective headache (including Migraine) management.” This same report revealed that non-specialist physician undergraduate medical training included just four hours about headache and Migraine; specialist (neurologist) training included 10 hours.5

Myth #5: Only women have Migraines.

Truth: Women and men both have Migraines: 18% of women and 6 to 8% of men.

Myth #6: Only adults have Migraines.

Truth: People of all ages have Migraines. Some children have Migraines while very young, before they’re even old enough to tell anyone what’s wrong. With children that young, diagnosis is achieved by reviewing family medical history and observing the child’s behavior.

Myth #7: If you don’t have auras, you don’t have Migraines.

Truth: Only 25 to 30% of Migraineurs have Migraine with aura, and few of them have aura with every Migraine attack. Most people who have Migraine with aura also have Migraine without aura.

Myth #8: People who get Migraines are intelligent, highly-achieving, high-strung people with a “Migraine personality.”

Truth: At one time, there was a theory that there was a set of “personality features and reactions dominant in individuals with migraine” that included “Feelings of insecurity with tension manifested as inflexibility, conscientiousness, meticulousness, perfectionism, and resentment” that became referred to as the “Migraine personality.”6

These “notions regarding the generalizability of the migraine personality have not withstood the test of time; in fact, current research suggests that there is no one dominant personality profile among those with migraine.”6

Myth #9: There’s nothing that can be done about Migraines. We have to “just live with them.”

Truth: This is far from the truth. Although there is no cure for Migraine disease at this time, we do not have to “just live with them.” With the help of a doctor who truly understand the disease, we can work on trigger identification and management and treatments toward effective Migraine management. There are many options for Migraine prevention, more than ever before. There is a small percentage of Migraineurs, approximately 5%, with chronic and intractable (Migraines that don’t respond to medications) Migraines who continue to struggle, even with these options. The need for increased awareness and research funding on a federal level is largely responsible for the lack of progress in this area.

Myth #10: A Migraine is a Migraine is a Migraine. They’re all alike.

Truth: To begin with, there are several different types of Migraine. The two main types are Migraine with aura and Migraine without aura. Then there are subtypes of Migraine with aura: basilar-type Migraine, sporadic and familial hemiplegic Migraine, There’s also retinal Migraine; abdominal Migraine; complications of Migraine such as chronic Migraine, and more.

On top of that, one person’s Migraines can be dramatically different from another’s and even one person’s Migraines can vary from one to the next.

What other myths about Migraines have you heard? Please post a comment and share them with us.

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.

1Headache Classification Committee of the International Headache Society: J Olesen, M-G Bousser, H-C Diener, D Dodick, M First, PJ Goadsby, H Göbel, MJA Lainez, JW Lance, RB Lipton, G Nappi, F Sakai, J Schoenen, SD Silberstein & TJ Steiner. Available at: http://cep.sagepub.com/content/26/6/742.abstract. Brief Report: New appendix criteria open for a broader concept of chronic migraine. Cephalalgia 2006;26,742–746.2Natoli, JL; Manack, A; Dean, B; Butler, Q; Turkel, CC; Stovner, L.; and Lipton, R.B. Available at: http://cep.sagepub.com/content/30/5/599. Global prevalence of chronic migraine: A systematic Review. Cephalalgia 2010;30:599. DOI: 10.1111/j.1468-2982.2009.01941.x. 3Park J.E.1; Kempner J.2; Young W.B. “The Stigma of Migraine.” Poster presentation. 52nd annual meeting of the American Headache Society. Los Angeles. June, 2010. 4Shapiro, Robert, MD. Available at: http://www.allianceforheadacheadvocacy.org/letters/Headache%20Disorders%20Fact%20Sheet.doc. Headache Disorders in the United States. Alliance for Headache Disorders Advocacy. 5World Health Organization, Lifting the Burden. Available at: http://www.who.int/mental_health/management/atlas_headache_disorders/en/. Atlas of Headache Disorders and Resources in the World 2011. Geneva. World Health Organization. May, 2011. 6Lake, Alvin E., III, PhD; Rains, Jeanetta C.; Penizen, Donald B., PhD; Lipchik, Gay L., PhD. Available at: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1526-4610.1995.hed3507382.x/abstract. Headache and Psychiatric Comorbidity: Historical Context, Clinical Implications, and Research Relevance. Headache 2005;45:483-506.

Comments

  • deborahvan-der-harst
    5 years ago

    I have what is called a Nummular headache. Even many neurologists have never heard of them. They are about silver dollar size and shape. They alway hurt although sometimes extremely and sometimes mildly. The pain is always on the same area, but the pain may radiate to nearby areas. I would appreciate hearing from someone who knows anything about nummular headaches.

    Thank you,
    Deborah VD Harst

  • Diane
    5 years ago

    One myth that wasn’t mentioned, and my biggest pet peeve, is that a migraine is a headache. To most people these words are interchangeable. I used to call into work and tell them I was having a migraine attack and the response was always, “So you’re not coming in because you have a headache?” to which I would reply, “No, I’m having a migraine attack. A headache is one of my symptoms, along with nausea, dizziness, chills, photo phobia, etc.” Then the boss would say, “You have a headache.” That’s what would be written on the attendance slip. It’s bad enough when the general public thinks a migraine is a headache. But migraineurs are just as bad when it comes to using those two words interchangeably. It’s hard to convince the general public that there’s a difference when those suffering from the disease and Healthcare providers don’t even seem to know the difference.

  • Nancy Harris Bonk moderator
    7 years ago

    Cyndi and Teri – we can agree to disagree, which is always allowed in life – but in my opinion, when anyone is first diagnosed with a chronic illness, it’s beneficial to have some sort of idea how your life may or may not change and what you may or may not expect from these changes.

  • Nancy Harris Bonk moderator
    7 years ago

    Exactly Teri! Most of us aren’t given any information or support when diagnosed with a chronic condition, other than the “biggies.” I don’t suggest a long, extensive relationship with a counselor or therapist may be necessary for all, but initially I think it is important.

  • Teri-Robert author
    7 years ago

    Absolutely agree, Nancy. And that can be discussed in an evaluation appointment. That doesn’t mean that everyone needs an ongoing relationship with a counselor or therapist.

  • Holly GL
    7 years ago

    Its nice to hear confirmation about the myth of having a migraine personality. My neurologist accused me of having a Type A personality and said to help prevent migraines, I needed to talk to someone to calm down because I’m ambitious for wanting to go to grad school. I’ve always been the same optimistic, hard-working and conscientious person; I doubt personality is what made the migraines start up. The migraine personality myth blames the migraineur for getting migraines – so unfair!

  • Cyn
    7 years ago

    Hate that you’ve run into someone that uses the “migraine personality” terminology. I think we all do have things that can trigger our migraines and, in some cases, our reactions to stress can be a part of that. However, it is naive and mis-stated to assume that migraineurs have a certain personality type. I think it’s great that you want to go to grad school and certainly not a reason to see a therapist. Being both a therapist and being a patient of a therapist, I do think a therapist can play a very helpful role in managing some of the life stressors and grief associated with Migraine. However, not everyone with Migraines “needs” to see a therapist. I know many people who handle their migraines without a therapist and others who are grateful to have one. This is an individual choice. The key is to look at what you hope to gain from meeting with a therapist – what are your goals? Therapy doesn’t cure migraines or the alleged “migraine personality.” There are times when my dogs, my friends, the migraine community, my family far better meet my needs than any therapist! Don’t feel pigeon-holed by his statements! You are an adult and given that you are in grad school are certainly smart enough to educate yourself and to determine if therapy is right for you or not! Good luck!

  • Teri-Robert author
    7 years ago

    Nancy,
    I agree that all Migraineurs should be screened for depression and their coping skills evaluated, but not all Migraineurs need a professional to talk with after that, and not all of us need professional help with coping skills. Some of us understand quite well how difficult it is to live with a chronic illness and have great coping skills and very strong support systems. Certainly, the option should be available. I just don’t agree that everyone with a chronic illness can derive benefit from this type of treatment. Just my personal opinion.

  • Teri-Robert author
    7 years ago

    Holly,
    Sounds like time for a new doctor to me! That blame-the-patient stuff gets old really fast. I do think that all Migraineurs need to be assessed for depression and their coping skills evaluated, but not all of us need to have professional help beyond that. Take a look at http://migraine.com/blog/is-it-time-for-a-new-migraine-doctor/
    Teri

  • Nancy Harris Bonk moderator
    7 years ago

    Hi Holly,

    The only part of his statement I’d agree with is talking to someone. NOT because of being “migraine personality” but rather to understand how difficult it is to live with a chronic illness and learn some coping techniques. I feel this benefits anyone with a chronic illness.

  • Janet Mills
    7 years ago

    I have CADASIL, a genetic disease that causes migraines due to the constriction of blood vessels in my brain. There’s little I can do for that constriction. I have never experienced an aura, but I have been very ill from migraines. If you have migraines, depression, mood swings, TIAs (transient ischemic attacks), dizziness, and/or strokes (or in your family), please consider learning more about CADASIL. It is UNDER diagnosed and often MISdiagnosed. Thank you for this forum.

  • Steph Moreno
    7 years ago

    Awesome!

  • Diana Lee
    7 years ago

    This totally hits the nail on the head!

  • Michelle Carey Chaffin
    7 years ago

    thank you for this post…I struggle to understand and need a simple way to “get it” I have been in a fog too long!

  • Melanie Symonds
    7 years ago

    I think what bothers me most in reading this list is that most of these are things I’ve been told by doctors at one point or another! Fortunately, that’s all the past now that I see a migraine specialist. What a difference that made.

  • Roxanne Christer
    7 years ago

    It is so nice to see what I know written down by somebody with some credibility. It isn’t that I don’t appreciate people who try to understand or sympathise or empathise it’s just that I wish they would ask more questions rather than make ANY assumptions and take the time to listen to how this is for me. “Myth #10: A Migraine is a Migraine is a Migraine. They’re all alike.”My migraines vary so much from attack to attack depending on the trigger and what medication I’m on, how fast I can treat myself. Thank you for the post.

  • Roxanne Christer
    7 years ago

    Just to be clear – I do have some wonderful friends and family who ask all the right questions. Some being the operative word.

  • Catherine Charrett-Dykes
    7 years ago

    love it! and thanks for the shout out!

  • Teri Robert
    7 years ago

    You’re quite welcome, Catherine Charrett-Dykes!

  • Sarah Hooper
    7 years ago

    Revealing Truths to top 10 Myths about Migraines!

  • Sandy
    5 years ago

    thank you. sad. that there are so many of these myths so rolling around. unfortunately some I have been told by my co-workers, family, friends, and fellow migrainers (not chronic).i don’t know anyone personally with chronic only on here. we are not all alike re symptoms, triggers, and warning signals. And… yet it is still ok because the way mine manifest does not diminish or belittle someone else’s migraine disease.

  • Poll