The term migraine is thrown about a lot, often without much knowledge about what the term really means. Sometimes people use it to mean a really bad headache. I confess that I didn’t know much about migraines until 2002 when I was trying to cope with chronic migraines. Back then, there wasn’t a day that went by that I didn’t experience a migraine. In retrospect, I now believe that I’ve had migraines since I was a child, pre-puberty, even though I didn’t know to call them migraines. I’ve tried to define migraine in the past: first on my first health-related blog Breathe Free and then just last summer on this blog.
If you’ve read much on the internet about migraines, then you may have come across descriptions that included one-sided pain, throbbing pain, intense pain, or the presence of aura. Today, we know that these descriptions are not typical of all migraines. Let’s look at a migraine definition that is based on current research.
What is a Migraine?
What is a migraine? It’s better to refer to migraine disease, because that is what it truly is. Migraine disease is a neurological disease that is largely inherited. In fact, if one parent has migraines then your changes of having them are 50%. If both parents have migraines, you’re 75% likely to have them. But the absence of migraine in your parents doesn’t get you off the hook.
Migraine disease is a chronic condition with no known cure. It is a complex brain disorder involving several areas of the brain.
Did you say Brain Disorder? What does that mean?
I, personally, find it a bit disturbing to be told that I have a brain disorder. I mean, I’m not stupid or crazy. My brain seems to work just fine, thank you.
But that definition comes from what is known about the mechanisms involved in a migraine attack. And since it all takes place in the brain, then it is considered a disorder of the brain:
Our brain communicates via neurotransmitters. Neurotransmitters are chemicals that are used by neurons to send signals to other neurons. Migraine disease involves a breakdown in the communication of these neurons in our brain. Hence the term “brain disorder.” I prefer to think of it as having a sensitive nervous system.
Is it a Migraine? Or is it a headache? How do I know?
You should know that head pain (or headache) is just one component of a migraine attack. I’ll be talking about the phases of a migraine attack next week. For now, what you need to know is that you can have migraines without the headache. And you can have headaches without having migraines. Sadly, there is no definitive test at this time for migraine disease. In order to know if what you’re experiencing is a migraine requires diagnosis from a doctor.
If you’re experiencing frequent headaches, then I encourage you to see a doctor. It’s important to see a doctor to get a good diagnosis and to rule out more serious, life-threatening conditions. In the end, you may need to see a headache or migraine specialist to get a good diagnosis. When you see doctors about your headaches or migraines, it’s important to give as much information as possible regarding your symptoms and frequency to help them with their diagnosis.
This is the first in a series of posts I am writing on migraines and headaches. My goal is to raise everyone’s awareness (even my own) on what migraines are and how they impact the lives of migraineurs and those close to them. If you have specific questions you would like to see covered, please leave a comment below.
If you’re ready to begin your journey to better migraine control, then contact me to set up your initial session.