For starters, a migraine is so much more than a bad headache.
Migraines are one of the most misunderstood conditions. Often times, they’re dismissed as just a bad headache (or worse, an excuse to stay at home and skip an event). One reason is that migraines are an “invisible” condition. To outsiders, people who suffer from migraines don’t necessarily look sick, so sympathy tends to be lost.
Another reason is that there are many rumors floating around about what migraines actually are—and what they’re not.
We asked neurologist Mark Green, MD, from Mount Sinai Hospital to shed some light on common migraine myths, and debunk them once and for all.
MYTH: Migraines are all in your head.
“Migraines are very real—it’s biochemical,” says Dr. Green. Migraines are caused by a complicated interaction between the brain and blood vessels in the face and head. Learn more about how doctors define migraines here.
“It only adds to a person’s suffering to imply they they should just be controlling it themselves and it’s not real,” says Dr. Green.
MYTH: A migraine is a just a bad headache.
Everyone gets headaches—but migraines are not just a bad headache. A headache is just one symptom of migraines.
In addition to the infamous headache, migraines are a complex condition that can make a person feel a variety of symptoms. “You may get light sensitivity, nausea, [and] vomiting—there’s a lot of symptoms of migraine that go well beyond a headache,” says Dr. Green.
MYTH: All migraines have auras.
There are two types of migraines: Migraine with aura and migraine without aura. Some people think auras are what distinguish a migraine from a regular headache, but that’s not true. “Only 20 percent of people with migraine have auras,” ays Dr. Green.
An aura is a symptom that happens before or during a migraine headache, and often lasts 15 to 30 minutes. Each person’s aura is different, but in most cases the aura affects the vision.
People experiencing an aura might:
- See flashing lights, bright spots, or zig-zag lines, or temporarily lose part of their vision.
- Have numbness and tingling of the lips, lower face, or fingers of one hand.
- Hear sounds or have ringing in their ears.
MYTH: You have to deprive yourself of foods that you love to avoid triggering a migraine.
While it’s true that certain foods and ingredients can provoke migraines for about 50 percent of migraine sufferers, avoiding triggers completely may be unhealthy, since the list of potential migraine trigger foods is extensive. This list includes:
- Aspartame (artificial sweetener)
- Caffeine or caffeine withdrawal
- Wine and other types of alcohol
- Monosodium glutamate (MSG)
- Some fruits and nuts
- Fermented or pickled goods
- Cured or processed meats
- Aged cheeses
“We’re not recommending you stop everything that you enjoy,” says Dr. Green. “If you like something like aged cheese, which has tyramine, you can probably have it, except perhaps a times where other triggers are applicable, for example, like around the time of your period.”
MYTH: The more medication you take, the better you’ll feel.
First off, medication should always be taken as prescribed or indicated. If you have frequent migraines, it may be tempting to take OTC medications every time, but don’t. “In general the rule is, we don’t like people to take an acute medication more than twice a week,” says Dr. Green.
“We do want people to treat early for an individual attack, but if they treat early and often, they can turn the episodic problem into a chronic headache and make the whole thing worse,” says Dr. Green.
Talk to your doctor if you suffer from frequent migraines—there are other migraine treatments that can help.
MYTH: There’s nothing you can do about migraines.
While migraines can’t be cured, there are many medical and lifestyle treatment options to soothe migraine symptoms and prevent future attacks. Learn more about home remedies to help treat migraines.
“We’ve come to recognize how debilitating migraines are. An effective treatment may reduce that visibility,” says Dr. Green. “It’s an exciting time we’re in now, where new drugs are in development and new treatments are in development, we want people to avail themselves to these.”
Dr. Green is a neurologist at the Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City. He is the director of the Center for Headache and Pain Medicine and professor of Neurology, Anesthesiology, and Rehabilitation at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai.
00:00:00,178 --> 00:00:02,984
00:00:02,984 --> 00:00:06,134
Well, a common myth about migraines
is that it's all in your head,
00:00:06,134 --> 00:00:07,730
that it's not real.
00:00:07,730 --> 00:00:10,347
Migraine's very real,
it's biochemical, and
00:00:10,347 --> 00:00:13,771
it only adds to a person's suffering
to imply that they are just,
00:00:13,771 --> 00:00:16,784
should be controlling it themselves and
it's not real.
00:00:16,784 --> 00:00:21,662
00:00:21,662 --> 00:00:24,190
It's a myth that migraine
is just a bad headache.
00:00:24,190 --> 00:00:26,380
There's a lot more to
migraine than headache.
00:00:26,380 --> 00:00:29,030
You may get light sensitive,
00:00:29,030 --> 00:00:33,020
There's a lot of symptoms of migraine
that go well beyond headache.
00:00:33,020 --> 00:00:35,964
It's a common myth that you must have
an aura in order to have a migraine.
00:00:35,964 --> 00:00:39,014
Only 20% of people with
migraines have auras.
00:00:39,014 --> 00:00:43,622
An aura is a focal neurological complaint,
often visual, like zig-zag lines,
00:00:43,622 --> 00:00:47,119
bright lights, blind spots,
can be numbness and tingling.
00:00:47,119 --> 00:00:51,045
It's a myth that you must deprive yourself
of foods that you love in order to prevent
00:00:51,045 --> 00:00:53,050
triggering of a migraine.
00:00:53,050 --> 00:00:57,665
The fact is that most of these foods
are irrelevant to most people, so
00:00:57,665 --> 00:01:00,300
we're not recommending you
stop everything you enjoy.
00:01:00,300 --> 00:01:04,320
If you like something like aged
cheese which has tyramine,
00:01:04,320 --> 00:01:08,670
you probably can have it, except
perhaps at times where there are other
00:01:08,670 --> 00:01:11,970
triggers that are applicable, for
example, around the time of your period.
00:01:11,970 --> 00:01:15,730
It's a myth that the more medication
you take, the better you will feel.
00:01:15,730 --> 00:01:20,410
We do want people to treat early for an
individual attack, but if they treat early
00:01:20,410 --> 00:01:24,960
and often, they can transform the episodic
problem into a chronic headache and
00:01:24,960 --> 00:01:25,984
make the whole thing worse.
00:01:25,984 --> 00:01:29,240
Your doctor should advise you how
often you can take medication.
00:01:29,240 --> 00:01:30,233
A general rule is,
00:01:30,233 --> 00:01:34,770
we don't like people to take an acute
medication more that twice a week.
00:01:34,770 --> 00:01:37,346
It's a myth that there's nothing
you can do about migraine.
00:01:37,346 --> 00:01:41,310
A lot of agents that are available now and
more coming soon.
00:01:41,310 --> 00:01:44,540
And I believe most people will find
a treatment that's acceptable.
00:01:44,540 --> 00:01:48,090
We've come to recognize how
debilitating migraines are, and
00:01:48,090 --> 00:01:50,540
effective treatment may
reduce that disability.
00:01:50,540 --> 00:01:54,250
So it's an exciting time we're in now,
where new drugs are in development,
00:01:54,250 --> 00:01:55,890
new treatments are in development.
00:01:55,890 --> 00:01:57,862
We want people to avail
themselves with these.
00:01:57,862 --> 00:02:02,367
Migraine headaches in adults (Beyond the Basics). UpToDate. (Accessed on August 9, 2018 at
Top 10 Migraine Myths. American Migraine Foundation. (Accessed on August 9, 2018 at
The Stigma of Migraine. Philadelphia, PA: Department of Neurology, Thomas Jefferson University, 2013. (Accessed on August 9, 2018 at https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3546922)