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Phone between two different types of doctors, a male primary care doctor and a female specialist.

Why we ask about your doctor

If you’ve ever asked a question on our forums, left a comment on an article, or responded to a Facebook post, you’ve probably discovered that there’s one question we nearly always ask:

“Are you seeing a headache specialist?”

You may be wondering why we ask this question or why it matters the kind of doctor you see.

  • Over half of those suffering from migraine have never seen a doctor about it.
  • 38% of all migraine sufferers meet the clinical threshold for preventive therapy yet only 12% of those patients actually receive preventives.
  • Early use of preventive therapy has been shown to reduce the risk of developing Chronic Migraine.
  • Primary care physicians receive about 4 hours of education on all headache disorders. That’s simply not enough time to become an expert.
  • Even a general neurologist can’t always help. Their practice covers a wide range of neurological disorders and they simply don’t have the time to keep up on the latest advances in headache medicine.
  • A headache specialist has advanced training specifically in headache disorders. This doctor has a full-time practice dedicated exclusively to headache disorders. He or she may or may not be a neurologist.

Would you trust a Jiffy Lube mechanic to work on your German sports car? Probably not.

Would you trust the neighbor boy who mows lawns to custom landscape? I doubt it.

While both the mechanic and the boy with the lawn mowing service are perfectly capable of changing a car’s oil and cutting the grass, neither are specialists. They won’t be able to advise you on the care of your precious Lambourghini or design a built-in sprinkler system for your perfectly landscaped, weed-free lawn. You would need experts.

Doesn’t your brain deserve specialized care, too?

So we ask, and ask, and ask. More often than not, our next step is to help you find a specialist. We are passionate about getting expert care to every one of you because you deserve it.

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. Buse, Dawn C, PhD, Understanding Research: What is the American Migraine Prevalence and Prevention (AMPP) Study and what have we learned from it? American Headache Society Center for Headache Education, retrieved online at
  2. Chronic Daily Headache and Chronic Migraine, American Headache Society, retrieved online
  3. Lipton, R. B. MD, Bigal, M. E. MD, PhD, Diamond, M. MD, Freitag, F. DO, Reed, M. L. PhD, Stewart, W. F. PhD. Migraine prevalence, disease burden, and the need for preventive therapy, Neurology, January 30, 2007, Vol. 68 No 5:343-349.


  • BrendaWW
    4 years ago

    I have had classic & chronic menstrual migraines for almost 40 years. Aura’s, slurred speech, light sensitivity, nausea & the smell of burnt toast overwhelming my senses was the norm. I was in the Imitrex trials at Kaiser in the late 1980’s/early 1990’s. Back then it was an injectable & extremely effective for me. The chief Neurologist was my primary care physician in those days. I went on a camping trip & was brought semi conscious into the ER with similar symptoms, but also included stiff neck & fever. He sent me home on Darvocet and my poor (newly married) husband to care for me. This went on for 10 days. I remember vomiting all over myself & lying in the bed in agony. The doctor saw me every other day, gave me an injection of something & sent me home with more Darvocet. By 3rd visit he was accusing me of drug seeking & being aggressive & rude. I saw different doc (not even a Neurologist) on day 10 & he diagnosed me with viral spinal meningitis & hospitalized me. I’m not sure what the moral here is except also with training doctors need compassion and discernment. I had 2 more episodes of meningitis over the next 6 years. They diagnosed Mollaret’s syndrome, but after dozens of blood, urine & spinal taps they never were able to confirm.

  • Victoria
    4 years ago

    I too have classic migraines which have dipped into the chronic phase a few times over the years. I was also misdiagnosed at a clinic with an “atypical” migraine that was actually viral meningitis. It wasn’t properly diagnosed for over a week when the clinic doctor finally sent me to the hospital for a spinal tap. If it was bacterial meningitis, I would have been dead. Like Brenda, I experienced another bout of viral meningitis several years later; fortunately I recognized the symptoms that time. Now I’m being successfully treated with Botox in my neck and shoulders every 12-14 weeks. It’s no cure, but it’s definitely helping with decreased frequency and symptoms.

  • Chrissy
    4 years ago

    Thank you for giving me the extra push I needed to look for the specialist. I had been seeing a general neurologist and his ARNP for years. I wasn’t showing any improvement (actually there was decline) but I was comfortable with them. I have now found a headache specialist that is actively working with me to find a treatment plan that works. He doesn’t give up. He even just emailed me our next step at 10:30 on Saturday night.

  • rosie.smiles
    4 years ago

    Migraine specialists are great, but what about when there are no specialists within a reasonable distance? That was my problem and I didn’t know what to do. I was going to the biggest neurology practice in my state, and they ran out of good options for me. What they most recommended was sending me to a headache specialist/headache clinic out of state, probably Boston (I had a Boston surgeon for surgery for a different problem and I was tired of having to go so far). Apparently there are no headache specialists in my state besides general neurologists. I finally went to a plastic surgeon in my state that does migraine surgery and his procedure helped me greatly.

  • rosie.smiles
    4 years ago

    Thank you for the information, Joanna! Also it’s good to know my frustrations were not unique to me. Yes, migraine surgery was a big decision (especially since my insurance didn’t cover it), but it definitely was the right thing and was so worth it…and I’m thankful there was a plastic surgeon doing migraine surgery relatively close to home. 🙂

  • Joanna Bodner moderator
    4 years ago

    Hi there rosie.smiles,

    I am so happy to hear that you are experiencing some relief since your surgery! That is great news! It sounds like you close to near exhausted all of your other options, so I am sure that was a big decision to have made to opt for the procedure.

    Please know that you are not alone with this frustration related to finding a specialist! Here is an article that I thought you might be able to relate to which discusses this shortage: Also, while you likely already have learned of the specialists in a “reasonable” area for you, but just in case, here is some additional information on searching for a specialist:

    Thanks for taking the time to share your comment!
    -Joanna ( Team)

  • Maureen
    4 years ago

    Why I value my headache specialist even though my primary care doctor is very migraine friendly/knowledgeable:
    1. She listens to me.
    2. She trusts me to know when to use steroids in my own care, i.e. she has given me an rx to keep on hand so I have it at the ready when I need it, because it has helped me in the past and is more effective if I begin at the early threshold of status migrainous.
    3. She gives me new strategies to use that I haven’t thought of, because she has the experience. When my migraine pattern changes, it is new to me, but may not be new to her.
    4. I am not the lone weirdo, strange anomaly, difficult patient in the practice. Everyone at the headache clinic has a headache disorder or migraine disease. There is comfort in knowing you are not alone. Just glancing around the waiting room and seeing others inside, wearing their dark sunglasses, gives a sense of camaraderie.
    5. My changed treatment plan made a difference for me right away. It might for you.

  • Joanna Bodner moderator
    4 years ago

    Thank you SO much for commenting Maureen! You are very lucky to have found an successful treatment plan and especially to have a great specialist! Many are not as fortunate and continue to search for a suitable and effective doctor because you are right…finding a GOOD specialist is typically the 1st step towards making a difference for effective migraine management.

    Thanks again for sharing!

    -Joanna ( Team)

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