Migraine Doctors and Headache Specialists
A migraine or headache specialist is a doctor who treats people with migraine and headache disorders. It may be time to see a migraine specialist if your family doctor cannot find what causes your migraines or help you manage the attacks.
A migraine specialist’s training may be in internal medicine, family practice, or neurology. Most migraine specialists have had extra training in treating headaches. Some are certified by the United Council for Neurologic Subspecialties.1
Migraine specialists can be hard to find. In 2018, there were only 2,000 doctors who specialized in migraine care and 37 million people living with migraine.1
Other specialists who diagnose and treat migraine
Migraine can be a hard condition to correctly diagnose and treat. You may need to see other medical specialists to rule out conditions that cause migraine or migraine-like symptoms. These doctors include:2-4
- Neurologists: Doctors who diagnose and treat disorders of the nervous system. These include migraine, stroke, concussion, epilepsy, Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s, and multiple sclerosis.
- Ophthalmologists: Specialists who treat eye disease. Many people with migraine have vision changes, loss of vision, and sensitivity to light. This means some people go to an eye doctor first. An ophthalmologist can help decide if symptoms are caused by an eye disorder or migraine.
- Obstetrician/gynecologists: An OB/GYN treats issues of the female reproductive system, such as pregnancy and childbirth. Women whose migraines are tied to their menstrual cycle may first talk to their OB/GYN before seeing a headache specialist.
Doctors for children with migraine
Children are not little adults, so treating migraine in children means different kinds of specialists. Most children with migraine and other headache disorders see their pediatrician first. A pediatrician is a doctor who is trained to treat illness in children. If a child has migraines that are hard to treat, you may need to see a specialist.5
A pediatric neurologist specializes in treating children with migraine and other nervous system issues. A pediatric headache specialist or pediatric neurologist may work on a team in a headache center. This team may also include psychologists, physical therapists, and dietitians who all treat migraine in children.
How to talk with your doctor about migraine
A migraine journal is an important tool for you and your doctor to better understand your attacks. A migraine journal includes information like:6
- How many attacks you have, including day and time
- How long each attack lasts
- Type of symptoms, such as nausea, vomiting, and sensitivity to light and smells
- How long each symptom lasts
- Anything you think may have triggered the migraine, including food, drink, weather, lack of sleep, or stress
- What, if any, drugs or food you took to manage the migraine and how well it worked
If you miss work or are unable to carry out your regular routines because of migraine, make note of that too. For example, “unable to pick up kids from school” or “had to call in sick.”
A migraine journal will help you answer the common questions your doctor will have:7
- How long have you had migraine?
- How often do your migraine attacks occur?
- What are all of your migraine symptoms?
- Describe the head pain. Is it throbbing, intense on one side of the head, or all over?
- Have you identified any migraine triggers or migraine causes?
- Did anything about your routine change before the migraine began?
- Have you had a head injury? If so, when?
- Are taking any medications or supplements?
- What makes the symptoms improve?
- What makes the symptoms worse?
- Does anyone else in your family have migraine?
When a headache may be an emergency
You should see your doctor right away or go to an emergency room if you have:8
- A sudden, severe headache that feels like a thunderclap
- Head pain with a fever, stiff neck, confusion, seizures, double vision, numbness, or trouble speaking
- Head pain that began after a head injury, especially if the pain gets worse
- A long-term (chronic) headache that gets worse when you cough, strain, or move suddenly.
- A new head pain if you are over 50
You look for a migraine specialist using the American Migraine Foundation’s doctor finder.