Migraine Doctors and Headache Specialists
It is often difficult to diagnose migraines. In fact half of the people who have attacks that fit the definition of migraine, haven’t been diagnosed by a doctor. However, migraine is the most common type of headache that leads patients to seek treatment for the symptoms.
If the family doctor or general practitioner can’t help identify what’s causing uncomfortable symptoms, it might be time to see a specialist. There are many different types of doctors who specialize in different fields that may help determine if a patient suffers from persistent migraines.
Types of specialists that might help with a migraine diagnosis
- Headache or Migraine specialist – are doctors who focus on treating people with migraines. These doctors can be internal medicine doctors, family practice doctors, neurologists, or other specialists who see many patients with headache disorders. Most migraine & headache specialists have completed additional training and have additional certification in treating headaches. They may also work in a clinic dedicated to treating headaches.
- Neurologist – a doctor trained in diagnosing and treating disorders and diseases of the brain, spinal cord, nerves and muscles. Neurologists examine and treat the nerves in the head and neck as well as diagnose problems with memory, balance, speech, thinking and language.
- Ophthalmologist – a specialist who focuses on medical and surgical treatment of the eyes. Many migraine sufferers have symptoms that impact eyesight, such as vision changes, loss of vision and sensitivity to light. Ophthalmologists can help determine if the symptoms are caused by an eye disorder or by migraines.
- Otolaryngologist – ENT or ear, nose and throat specialist. Often sufferers have symptoms that cause sinus complaints.
- Allergist, a doctor who focuses on diseases and conditions that cause allergic reactions, involve the immune system or asthma. Several migraine symptoms are similar to those experienced by people with allergies, such as head pain, puffy eyelid and hives.
- Obstetrician/gynecologist – OB/GYN, focus on disorders and diseases in women and particularly focus on women’s reproductive systems, pregnancy and childbirth. Women have migraines far more often than men. Many times, these migraine attacks are tied to a woman’s menstrual cycle or hormones resulting in menstrual migraines.
- Pain management specialist—different types of doctors can be considered pain specialists, including anesthesiologists, neurologists and orthopedic surgeons. Head pain is the hallmark of migraines. A doctor who specializes in managing pain can help patients find a way to reduce the pain.
- Pediatrician, doctors who focus on the physical, mental, and social health and well-being of infants, children, adolescents and young adults. About 9 percent of children have migraines. Because children’s bodies aren’t the same as adults, a pediatrician can help diagnose migraine in young people.
- Pediatric headache specialist – focus on headache disorders in children.
- Psychologist is not a medical doctor, but can be someone with a Ph.D. They study the human mind and human behaviors. Sometimes migraine attacks can have emotional triggers. Psychologists can help sufferers find ways to avoid or better deal with situations that cause emotional distress.
- Neuromuscular dentist – focuses on correcting misalignment problems in the jaw at the temporomandibular joint (TMJ) and neck region. This specialty includes examining tissues, muscles, teeth, joints and nerves. Migraines can cause pain that radiates throughout the face, including causing severe discomfort in the jaw and mouth. A neuromuscular dentist may be able to find out if there are other underlying causes that are responsible for the discomfort.
- Psychiatrist – a medical doctor that specializes in mental disorders. Psychiatrists conduct physical exams and prescribe medications. Many times people with migraines also suffer from depression – which many doctors believe are somehow linked. Anxiety, another disorder treated by psychiatrists may also be an illness related to migraines. Numerous studies have shown that migraine has a large emotional impact on sufferers, with the World Health Organization list migraines in the top 20 causes of disability throughout the world. Other studies show that migraines cause sufferers to feel isolated, rejected and ridiculed.
How to communicate with your doctor about your migraine
Make sure you take a detailed migraine journal with you to your appointment. Your journal should contain information on each migraine attack, including each symptom, time of day, what and when you ate, the weather conditions, sleeping habits, physical activity, stress levels and alcohol consumption. You should also use the migraine journal to record how well different treatments work.
When you see a doctor about your migraine symptoms, it is very important that you are prepared to answer the following questions about your attacks:
- How long have you had migraines?
- How often do migraines occur?
- What are all of your migraine symptoms?
- Have any migraine triggers or migraine causes have been identified?
- Have you suffered from any head injuries? If so, when?
- Describe the head pain. Is it throbbing, intense on one side of the head or all over?
- Did anything about the your routine change before the migraine pain began?
- Are taking any medications?
- What makes the symptoms improve?
- What makes the symptoms worse?
- Does anyone else in the immediate family suffer from migraines?
When a headache may be an emergency
You should seek immediate medical attention if you have:
- A sudden headache or if your headaches change in pattern, intensity or symptoms
- An abrupt, head pain like a thunderclap
- Headache that is accompanied by fever, stiff neck, rash, seizures, mental confusion, double vision, weakness, numbness or trouble speaking
- A headache that occurs after a head injury
- Head pain that worsens with coughs, exertion, sudden movement or straining
- A new headache if you’re over age 50