Definitions: Holding Us Back

Why do we have such a hard time getting proper treatment and or medications for migraine? Could it be because the antiquated definitions of headache and migraine are too similar? Perhaps the medical community should take the time to better distinguish between the two afflictions. Perhaps the similarities in the two definitions are why so many doctors do not see or feel the need to look into stronger or better medications and treatment options for migraine patients.

Headache defined

The Mayo Clinic defines a headache as “pain in any region of the head. Headaches may occur on one or both sides of the head, be isolated to a certain location, radiate across the head from one point, or have a viselike quality. A headache may appear as a sharp pain, a throbbing sensation or a dull ache. Headaches can develop gradually or suddenly, and may last from less than an hour to several days.”1

Migraine defined

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defined migraine as “a condition marked by recurring moderate to severe headache with throbbing pain that usually lasts from four hours to three days, typically begins on one side of the head but may spread to both sides, is often accompanied by nausea, vomiting, and sensitivity to light or sound, and is sometimes preceded by an aura and is often followed by fatigue.” 2

Headaches and migraine

Many people are familiar with headaches and probably will experience several throughout their lifetime. Most headaches can be treated with over-the-counter nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, nsaids, such as advil or motrin. Some individuals experience a bad headache as part of a hangover and can mistaking believe that this type of headache is a migraine.

Migraine is a very different thing than a headache. There are some lucky people who will make it through life without ever having experienced a migraine. This is partially where the challenge comes into play because it is hard for somebody to understand something that they never experience. So for those individuals who have never had a migraine, they assume it’s the same as a bad headache.

Personal experience

The neurologist who does my wife’s Botox injections, is one of those doctors who uses the term headache instead of migraine. We both find it extremely aggravating because it feels like the doctor makes light of the severity of my wife’s migraines by calling them headaches.

How does it make you feel when your doctor or other people you know refer to your migraine as a “headache”? Do you think they refer to it as a headache because they lack empathy or because they simply do not know the difference? What do you think could do to try to bridge the gap in information? What kinds of experiences have you had, (positive or negative) in trying to explain the difference to someone? Do you think there will ever be a true understanding of the difference?

view references
  1. Mayo Clinic. 2018. Symptoms Headache. Retrieved from
  2. Merriam-Webster Dictionary. 2018. Migraine. Retrieved from
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