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When was the last time you had a migraine, doc?

I woke up with a migraine today. This is pretty standard fare. I wake up in pain, take some medication (or not, depending on the day) and then figure out how I’m going to get to work. I am pretty used to this routine, since I have had migraines since I was five years old. The only thing that’s a little unusual is my actual job. I’m a sociologist and, for the last ten years, I’ve dedicated my time to researching migraines.

I developed my expertise through formal education and years of research in the field. But I already knew quite a bit about migraine by the mere fact that I live in a body in pain. Sociologists refer to this as embodied knowledge, which are the routines, tasks, habits, and information that our bodies learn without engaging in conscious thought. Most of us don’t have to reflect very long on what it is like to have a migraine all the time. Unfortunately, we have become experts through experience!

But what about the doctors who treat us? Of course, they learn about headache disorders through school, residency, and training. But at least one study suggests that headache specialists tend to have headache disorders at a far greater rate than the general population. The study, conducted by Randolph Evans, Richard Lipton and Stephen Silberstein, surveyed physicians who attended medical education courses on headaches in 2000. They found that migraine was much more prevalent among neurologists than among the general population. The difference was even more striking among those who identified as headache specialists. An astounding 59.3% of male headache specialists and 74.8% of female headache specialists had reportedly experienced a migraine in the previous year.

The neurologists in question said that their migraines didn’t have anything to do with their choosing of a profession, although one wonders if this is really true. Lots of us get into our professions because of a personal experience. More to the point, one wonders how their experience of migraine alters their treatment of headache patients. Might headache specialists bring their own form of embodied knowledge to the clinical encounter? I imagine that this kind of knowledge makes physicians “insiders” and helps them empathize with people who have migraines. Next time you go to the doctor, you can turn the interview around and ask them: when was the last time you had a migraine, doc?

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.


  • cindyd
    5 years ago

    I had to go to the ER once for an injection for a migraine and the doctor told me he had migraines and then, as he proceeded to examine me, he shined a light right into my right eye which is where I generally have my migraines. I assumed he thought I was drug-seeking and he quickly made an exit out of the room and I cried for 15 minutes. My husband went looking for him but never could find him. That made me very angry. I was so sick from this particular migraine that I had to have 2 units of fluid because I was so dehydrated, as well as the pain medication. Some practitioners just don’t “get it.”

  • reasings
    5 years ago

    My neurologist is a headache specialist and a migraine sufferer. I feel the difference in my care. He is empathetic and understanding of the pain and the plethora of other migraine symptoms that I experience!

  • Karen Stanley Haack
    8 years ago

    Sami’sendricrinologist had hemiplegic migraines so he understood the paralysis that went along with her migraine disorder.

  • Tammy Gregory
    8 years ago

    TThat is how I docs. How can they treat me if they cannot relate…

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