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When no news isn’t exactly good news

When you’re on the path toward getting diagnosed with migraine disease, your healthcare professional will take several steps to rule out what you don’t have. The symptoms of migraine can mimic many other illnesses, some of them more immediately serious than migraine itself, so it’s in everyone’s best interest to go ahead and make sure there’s nothing else going on in the brain or body before moving toward a diagnosis of migraine.

I was diagnosed with migraine in 2001, eight years or so after having my first memorable attack. In 2006, my headache specialist (whom I drove to and from Atlanta to see) prescribed an MRI. At the time, I had health insurance, but due to now-too-typical bureaucratic rules at the insurance company, insurance did NOT cover the $2000+ procedure. (Thank goodness for parents, who bailed me out—I was living on a grad school stipend at the time and never could have afforded it.)

Recently I’ve had more dizziness, tiredness, and episodes of feeling faint. My primary care doctor and current headache specialist both recommended an updated MRI.

This time around, the MRI is an affordable (HA! Scoff.) $800. This is after the no-insurance discount was applied (I’ve been without insurance for nearly 7 years now).

A strange thing happened when I got the results: I was a little bit let down to know that my brain appeared 100% normal. No problems, no changes from the last MRI. No signs of any damage or warning signs. This is good news for sure: so why was I disappointed?

My best guess is that sometimes we chronically ill folks can spend months—if not years—working toward a definitive diagnosis. When new symptoms crop up, it can be scary. A diagnosis can help give some sort of conclusion to that particular chapter in your health life, can give some reason for the symptoms that have been interrupting your everyday routine. When you shell out big bucks for a big test like an MRI, of course it’s good news to hear that there’s nothing alarming happening in your brain (at least as far as the scan can see!), but it can be a little disappointing to know that you’re not much closer to finding out what’s happening with your body.

Have you ever experienced this strange let-down feeling when a test comes back negative? What do you think of this phenomenon?

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.


  • Tn5259jn
    6 years ago

    I know exactly what you mean! You want so desperately for them to find something wrong so they can FIX IT!!! When everything appears normal (to the Dr’s), it makes you feel like it’s all your fault…or you are making it up, even though you know that’s not true! Oh for there to be a real treatment for migraines…

  • Tamara Haag
    6 years ago

    I have felt intense depression at the words “everything came back normal.” Of course, if everything was normal you wouldn’t be having the expensive test in the first place, so those words only mean the health care professionals lack the ability to pinpoint the exact location/nature/etc. of the problem. This can be extremely frustrating.

  • angieadams
    6 years ago

    I understand all too well, as i recently had migraine that lasted for 6 days and ended up having a seizure-like episode while driving home. I went to the ER and got a pain injection/fluids, and had a CAT scan which of course, was normal. I have had migraines for years, got diagnosed with chronic migraine about 12 years ago and at the age of 44, feel as hopeless about them ending now as I did back when I first got the diagnosis. My MRI and CT scans have been normal, and the ER doctor told me that unless they did the scans while I was having the neurologic episode I would probably continue to have normal scans. I am going to a new neurologist tomorrow who specializes in migraines, I am basically willing to do anything at this point, even try experimental meds. I know I am in for a major life change and will have to make some big diet modifications plus keep my stress levels down, but I am lucky to have a husband who is supportive and wants to help me improve. I knew those results would come back normal, thankfully my coworkers believed me when I told them I could not make it to work, they saw how much I was suffering when I worked through the pain – which probably caused me to ultimately have the seizure.

  • DebbyJ56
    6 years ago

    I’ve had 6 MRI’s and they are all normal. Have had chronic migraines since I was 5yrs old. Chronic daily migraines for eight yrs. I am 57 now. Really wanted something to show up on those MRI’s.

  • Julie
    6 years ago

    I know that feeling all too well. Your all stressed out about the test thinking something is wrong because your so ill. Your worried what they could possibly find out all the time hoping on one hand nothing is serious and if they DO find something that they found it in time. And when they get the results and tell you everything is normal on one hand you are relieved and at the same time you feel deflated because you think your crazy cause here all along you thought something was seriously wrong and you wanted proof and now you think that the doctors think your nuts! Yep, had 2 MRI’s and all that showed up was a sinus cyst they said was nothing to worry about. I felt relieved but then foolish but still very ill. It’s like your brain is playing hocus pocus on you and your doctors.

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