Don’t be fooled by what you read on the internet or hear around town.
You’re working from home, flying through your to-do list, when you get a sensation. Oh no. It’s the familiar throb of a headache, but you know better than that—a migraine is coming. With migraine pain and symptoms affecting over 30 million people, you’re not alone. Despite how common it is, some migraine myths continue to mislead patients or perpetuate stigma.
Debunking Migraine Myths
Migraine myths can have serious consequences. When someone believes these myths, it can sometimes stop or delay them from finding treatment. In other cases, it could perpetuate stigma and cause stress or shame. This is dangerous since many people with migraine also suffer from anxiety or depression.
A few common migraine myths include:
Myth #1: Migraines are just bad headaches
A migraine is a lot more than just a headache or even head pain. Oftentimes, migraines come with sensitivity to light and noise, nausea, weakness, vision problems, and more. These additional symptoms can be just as disabling as the pain itself. In other words, headaches are just one symptom of a migraine.
Myth #2: Real migraines have an aura
Some people think the difference between a headache and a migraine is an aura, but this is an oversimplification. It’s true that migraines may progress through four stages: prodrome, aura, attack, and postdrome. However, not everyone experiences all the stages. In fact, fewer than a third of migraine sufferers experience aura, according to the American Migraine Foundation.
Myth #3: You can control migraines by taking more medication
You might be tempted to take more of your migraine medication when a particularly bad migraine happens. However, taking more of a treatment can actually backfire and lead to something called medication overuse headaches. The use of too much migraine medication can also lead to other issues. This includes problems with the kidneys, liver, or gastrointestinal system.
If you feel like you need to take more of your medication than necessary, this may be a sign that you need to try a different treatment option. You should talk to your doctor to learn about your options.
Myth #4: Migraines are the patient’s fault
Many people are blamed for their own headaches. They're told that they didn't treat them correctly or they didn't avoid their triggers. However, not all triggers are avoidable. Plus, someone may struggle for a while to find a treatment that truly works for them or doesn’t cause challenging side effects. Someone may seemingly do “everything right” and still struggle with migraines.
Myth #5: Only women get migraines
It’s true that women suffer from migraines three times as often as men, according to the American Migraine Foundation. However, this isn’t to say that men don’t experience migraines. In fact, calling migraine a disease that only affects women may cause stigma that dissuades men from seeking help.
Myth #6: There’s nothing you can do about migraines
There are many different things that you can do about the disorder, including:
- Lifestyle changes
- Complementary and alternative strategies
- Behavioral therapies
Talk to your doctor for a list of options that could be good for you.
Myth #7: Every over-the-counter migraine medication is safe
Many people have more problems with over-the-counter medications (such as ibuprofen) than with prescription ones. If you find yourself using many of those treatments, then you may want to talk to your doctor about other options that might be safer and more appropriate for your condition.
Migraines don’t have to take over your life. Talk to your primary care physician and find out what treatment options are available to you.
Noah Rosen, MD, is the director at the Northwell Health Headache Center.
- Migraine. Washington, DC: Office of Women's Health, 2019. (Accessed March 17, 2021)
- The Link Between Migraine, Depression and Anxiety. Mount Royal, NJ: American Migraine Foundation, 2019. (Accessed March 17, 2021)
- Migraine: Maladaptive Brain Responses to Stress. Bethesda, MD: National Library of Medicine. (Accessed March 17, 2021)
- Anxiety and Depression. Mount Royal, NJ: American Migraine Foundation, 2016. (Accessed March 17, 2021)
- Migraine is a women’s health issue. New York, NY: Migraine Research Foundation. (Accessed March 17, 2021)
- Understanding Ocular Migraine. Mount Royal, NJ: American Migraine Foundation, 2017. (Accessed March 17, 2021)