8 Reasons Not to Ignore Episodic Migraine
Last updated: May 2023
People with episodic migraine receiving inadequate treatment are three times more likely to progress to having chronic migraine than those who have an effective treatment, according to the American Headache Society.1
Why is treating episodic migraine so important?
Please, please, please, if you have migraine attacks that aren't quickly and effectively treated by over-the-counter medication, see a doctor. Not only can effective treatment prevent episodic migraine from becoming chronic, but they can also make the migraine attacks you currently have much less debilitating.
Here are eight common reasons people cite for not seeing a doctor about migraine… and my responses to them.
A 'headache' isn't a reason to go to the doctor. A 'headache' IS a reason to go to the doctor. More importantly, migraine is not a headache, but a neurological disorder. If it goes untreated, there's a risk of episodic migraine attacks becoming chronic.
My doctor dismissed me. Make an appointment specifically for migraine. An accurate diagnosis and treatment plan takes more time than can be tacked onto an appointment for other issues. If your doctor doesn't take you seriously, find one who will.
I've taken over-the-counter medications, and they didn't work. Prescription migraine abortives are entirely different than over-the-counter painkillers. As long as you don't have other medical issues that would prevent their use, a class of drug called triptans is an excellent migraine abortive medication for many people. Sumatriptan is the first one you're likely to be prescribed, but there are others available as well. If you can't take triptans, other options are available.
A daily preventive medication to reduce the frequency and/or severity of episodic migraine attacks is another treatment option.
I don't want to take opioid painkillers ('narcotics'). Perfect! Opioids aren't recommended for treating migraine. See the previous answer for details on effective migraine abortive medications.
I don't want to take medication. Supplements, particularly magnesium, are often effective at preventing migraines. Biofeedback and relaxation techniques can help both prevent and lessen the impact of migraine attacks, as can acupuncture (which uses tiny needles that are almost imperceptible, nothing like the ones you're used to seeing when you get your blood drawn). Diet modification can reduce the frequency and severity of migraine attacks for some people. So can regular exercise and keeping to a sleep schedule.
My family just suffers through their migraine. You don't have to suffer through your migraine, too. There are effective treatments that probably weren't available when your family members started having their attacks. Maybe if you get effective treatment, your loved ones will discover they don't have to "tough it out" and will also see a doctor.
I don't like going to the doctor. You'll spend a lot more time at the doctor if your migraine progresses to chronic. And there's evidence that the more frequent your migraine attacks are, the harder they are to treat. The sooner you find an effective treatment, the better off you'll be.
I don't want to deal with it. Ignoring migraine won't make it go away. It could even make it worse. If you don't deal with it now, you're likely to spend a lot more time dealing with it in the future.
Knowledge is power, but it's only useful if you harness that power. If I'd had information like this 25 years ago, maybe I wouldn't have spent the majority of my 20s and 30s disabled by chronic migraine. You don't have to, so I beg you to see a doctor and get adequate treatment. Episodic migraine is bad enough; chronic migraine is hell.
Are the family and friends you will be seeing this holiday season understanding about migraine?