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Transformed Migraine – An Older Term for Chronic Migraine

The terminology of Migraine can be confusing, especially as it evolves. This is usually simplified by following the International Headache Society’s International Classification of Headache Disorders, 2nd Edition (ICHD-II), which is considered the “gold standard” for diagnosing and classifying Migraine and other headache disorders. As research progresses, however, the ICHD-II evolves, and the terminology evolves with it.

This is the case with the term “transformed Migraine.” The first edition of the ICHD, which was published in 1988, did not have a diagnostic category for chronic Migraine (CM). There was a division within the “headache” medicine community with European doctors being of the opinion that Migraine was an episodic disorder and Americans disagreeing.

Transformed Migraine is Chronic MigraineDoctors found it difficult to classify and diagnose more and more patients who were presenting with “headaches” that were occurring nearly daily; were sometimes Migraine, were sometimes tension-type headaches; and were sometimes difficult to distinguish between the two. Some doctors, including Dr. Ninan Matthew, Dr. Stephen Silberstein, and Dr. Richard Lipton, began using the term “transformed Migraine,” which was described as Migraine which began manifesting in episodic Migraine attacks, increasing in frequency and changing characteristics, and resulting in almost daily less severe headaches punctuated by severe and debilitating Migraine attacks.

In 1996, Silberstein and Lipton set forth these criteria for the classification of transformed Migraine:4

  1. Daily or almost daily (more than 15 days/month) head pain for more than 1 month
  2. Average headache duration of more than 4 hours/day (if untreated)
  3. At least 1 of the following:
    1. History of episodic migraine meeting any International Headache Society (IHS) criteria
    2. History of increasing headache frequency with decreasing severity of migrainous features over at least 3 months
    3. Headache at some time meets IHS criteria for migraine other than duration
  4. Does not meet criteria for new daily persistent headache or hemicrania continua
  5. Not attributable to another disorder

In 2006, the International Headache Society added a new appendix to ICHD-II to address diagnosis and classification of chronic Migraine. Since then, the term “chronic Migraine” has taken the place of the term “transformed Migraine.”

I hope this helps clear up any confusion you might have about the term “transformed Migraine.” I know how hard it can be to keep is all straight. It seemed that I had just gotten to the point of really understanding “transformed Migraine” when the IHS criteria was updated and we stopped using it in favor of chronic Migraine. Ah, well; that’s progress!

For the IHS diagnostic and classification criteria and other information about chronic Migraine, see our Chronic Migraine Overview.

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. Headache Classification Committee of the International Headache Society. “The International Classification of Headache Disorders, 2nd Edition.” Cephalalgia 24 (s1). doi: 10.1111/j. 1468-2982.2003.00824.x 2. Headache Classification Committee of the International Headache Society. “Brief Report: New appendix criteria open for a broader concept of chronic migraine” Cephalalgia, 2006, 26, 742–746. 3. Headache Classification Committee of the International Headache Society. “Classification and diagnostic criteria for headache disorders, cranial neuralgias and facial pain.” Cephalalgia. 1988;8(Suppl. 7):1-96. 4. Silberstein, Stephen D., MD. “Managing Chronic Migraine in 2011: Background” Medscape Neurology. April 18, 2011.


  • Zev
    7 years ago

    I see a migraine specialist at my neuor’s office and I’ve been there for 7 years. What amazes me is the new information that comes out all the time. It’s kind of hard to keep it all straight. I may have my migraines under control with my preventive supplement, but I’m still suffering from an every day headache, clusters and ice-pick headaches. I’m hopeful that eventually they will all be under-control. You really have to be your own best advocate and be well informed to gain any foothold on this disease/disorder.

  • Christopher Hicks
    7 years ago

    Nice, concise description of what Transformed Migraine is. I just wish that there were something as concise in the way of a treatment path. I have been working with a neurologist (and clinic) for several years now that specializes in migraine treatment. The unfortunate thing is that I have found little to no relief. We are no circling back and trying medications that I was taking three and four years ago.

    I look forward to a day when a description of the mechanisms behind the migraine can be explained and effect treatments (addressing root cause and not symptoms) can be offerred. In the interim…ugh.

  • Teri Robert
    7 years ago

    Thanks, Christopher. Yes, we all wish we could lay out something as concise for treatment paths, the mechanisms of Migraine, and lots of other areas. I’m with you in looking forward to the day when it’s possible to do that. In the meantime, we’ll do our best. If there are areas you find especially confusing, let us know, and we’ll do our best to lay them out as clearly as we can based on the information that’s currently available.

  • Samira SJ
    7 years ago

    this is very helpful! thank you : )

  • Teri Robert
    7 years ago

    Thank you , Samira, and you’re quite welcome. <3

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