I want a cure!
This is the battle cry of almost all migraineurs. Here at Migraine.com, we often get inquiries from people asking how to cure their migraines. I sure wish we could offer a cure. Unfortunately, there is no cure for migraine at this time.
Webster’s Dictionary defines cure as “recovery from a disease; also remission of signs or symptoms of a disease especially during a prolonged period of observation”. To be truly considered a cure, a specific course of treatment would need to be universally effective and result in complete remission of all symptoms even when exposed to triggers over the course of many years. As it is, each migraineur is so unique and treatments so varied that a cause has yet to be discovered. It is impossible to affect a cure when the cause is unknown.
Even more unfortunate are the number of websites available that prey on our desperation by tempting us with a cure. As we get better at spreading awareness, charlatans and snake oil salesmen swarm like locusts to profit from our misery and desperation. This is the unwanted side effect of greater awareness.
Many of these “cures” are based on outdated information or focus on trigger avoidance. Still others offer a mixture of supplements that have limited evidence of effectiveness. Some even offer radical surgeries with a limited track record of success. None have a proven track record sufficient enough to qualify as a cure. That doesn’t mean they won’t help some people. Obviously, these “cures” have helped someone. The problem is that they call their treatment a “cure” when there is no cure for migraine. At best, these promoters are misleading patients. At worst, they are lying and preying on desperate people.
While researching for this article, I discovered a popular health magazine with an article titled “Migraine causes and cures”. It actually contained pretty good information about trigger identification and avoidance. Sadly, it referred to triggers as “causes” and avoidance as a “cure”.
Most of us know that trigger avoidance is a lot like playing “whack-a-mole” at a carnival. As soon as we eliminate one another pops up. It’s not that we should ignore our triggers, but that triggers are so individual. It’s pretty rare to just avoid one trigger and never have another migraine.
Often, these “cures” are based on outdated science that has been disproven (i.e. vascular theory). Even worse are the ones based on stigma. If a “cure” starts talking about stress management, “migraine personality”, or staying positive that’s a sure sign of stigma. Sure, it helps to have good stress management skills and a positive mental attitude. But that alone won’t cure a migraine. I know lots of mentally healthy people who have chronic migraine. If positivity were the answer, they would not be suffering.
There are dozens of natural formulas that claim to “cure” migraine. They usually contain a combination of Butterbur, Feverfew, Magnesium, Co-Q10, and Vitamin B2. These are all good options for preventing migraine and worth a try for most patients. But using these supplements is a treatment, not a cure. For some migraineurs, using supplements as a preventive can be effective. They just don’t work for everyone. If these blends were truly a cure, everyone who tried them would be migraine-free. That’s simply not the case.
Complimentary & Alternative Medicine
Most of us try CAM at one point or another. A massage can feel really good and chiropractic care has helped a lot of people. There’s also cranio-sacral therapy, myofascial release therapy, acupuncture, and more. It’s all good. None of it will cure migraine.
There are so many now that it’s hard to keep up. Neurostim implants are gaining popularity as a treatment for chronic migraine. It can produce good results at relieving the pain of a migraine, but does nothing to stop them from coming and will not help all the other symptoms. Nerve decompression surgeries are also common. These are based on the theory that compressed nerves trigger pain. By surgically moving or removing the offending nerve, the patient can experience relief. New to the party are surgeries involving the sphenopalatine ganglion. All of these carry significant risks of permanent nerve damage. Because of these risks, headache specialists only recommend surgery as a last resort when all else has failed.
Please be careful when searching for information about “migraine cures”. Remember, there is no cure for migraine. It is a genetic neurological condition involving hypersensitivity to a wide variety of environmental stimuli (i.e. triggers) with periodic attacks involving moderate to severe one-sided headache of a throbbing quality, light sensitivity, sound sensitivity, possible visual aura, nausea and vomiting, and much more. There are a variety of medications used off-label that can prevent or reduce the frequency and severity of attacks. There are also acute medications that can stop an attack in progress. However, neither of these are cures.
A cure would be the complete elimination of hypersensitivity to environmental stimuli following a treatment that can be used for a limited time and then discontinued. Someone truly cured of migraine would no longer need to avoid triggers. They could stay up late, skip meals, eat foods containing MSG, and drink a glass of wine without fear that it would trigger a migraine. This is not possible right now.
So please use caution when searching for information about migraine treatments. Be very skeptical of any source that claims to know the cause of migraine or one that claims to have the ability to cure migraine.
Reputable sources for Migraine education
Have you taken our Migraine In America Survey yet?