Chronic migraine is much more than a bad headache. Here’s the truth

If you suffer from frequent headaches, do not pass it off as something random or harmless. It could be a sign that you have chronic migraine.
Migraines are much more worse than headaches. Image courtesy: Shutterstock
Dr Anil Venkitachalam Updated: 30 Oct 2023, 13:23 pm IST
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We are very familiar with the word ‘migraine’, and often people do not consider it as a severe ailment but just a headache. Most people who are prone to migraines get a painful attack once or twice a month. But there is a more severe condition known as chronic migraine, in which an individual gets headaches more often.

Chronic migraine lasts for 15 or more days in a month, for at least 3 months, and at least 8 days, which qualifies as a migraine headache day . These frequent and severe attacks can deteriorate the quality of life.

In India, women are affected 2-4 times more by chronic migraine than men. Typically, women are worst hit in their thirties, when the consequences of days lost to debilitating pain can be tremendous.

A little more about it…

According to the International Classification of Headache Disorders, headaches are classified into 14 categories with further subclassifications. It is therefore imperative to differentiate a chronic migraine from the rest. This differentiation of a chronic migraine headache from other types of headaches is important.

Ignoring a migraine can cost you big. Image courtesy: Shutterstock

An accurate diagnosis can help with timely and effective treatment to get faster results and prevent a severe stage incidence. Chronic migraine is not just a bad headache but a neurological disorder that imposes a considerable burden on individual and socioeconomic outcomes. Brushing off chronic migraine as just a bad or severe headache can become a recurring affair.

What are the causes of migraine?

Chronic migraine typically evolves from episodic migraine because of increasing attack frequency and several other risk factors that have been implicated with migraine pain progressing into persistent pain.

Classification between different kinds of headaches and chronic migraine is important because patients often get misdiagnosed and are prescribed the wrong medication. Once classified as chronic migraine, the treatment protocol is different, as they do not respond to regular medicines. Patients might need specialised treatments and a lot of high-end treatments.

People with chronic migraine might notice that certain things trigger their symptoms. Triggers differ from person to person, and they can include anything from environmental changes to specific foods or because of one’s lifestyle. The other triggers may include stress, depression or anxiety, hormonal changes, lack of sleep, hunger, alcohol consumption etc. Changes in hormones could be among the reasons that women have more headaches than men do. Oestrogen is one of the common hormones related to higher migraine prevalence in women experiencing menstruation.

home remedies for migraine
Ease your migraine symptoms with these home remedies. Image courtesy: Shutterstock

Oestrogen regulates the female reproductive system, and it also happens to control chemicals in the brain that impact the sensation of pain. A drop in oestrogen levels can cause a headache, which can further lead to a more severe one i,e chronic migraine, if not controlled on time.

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Is there any cure?

Although there is no cure for chronic migraine, most people can use medication and include lifestyle changes such regular exercise, dietary changes that eliminate trigger foods, imbibing relaxation techniques (such as mindful breathing and meditation), learning stress-management techniques, and keeping a migraine or headache diary to treat symptoms and help prevent future episodes.

A person experiencing a stress headache or a mild migraine can be treated with medicines such as pain relievers, which in turn, can effectively prevent a migraine or a cluster headache. However, a person suffering from moderate to severe migraine symptoms, which may turn to chronic migraine, may not respond to medicines available over the counter. In that case, patients may require a visit to a qualified neurologist for prescription medications.

The last word

Chronic migraine is characterised by higher disability and incidence of comorbidities in comparison to episodic migraine.

yoga for immunity boost
Turns out, yoga can go a long way in easing migraine pain. Image courtesy: Shutterstock

If there is a constant nauseous feeling or a change in vision, emergency medical care should be sought. This also applies if the headache lasts more than 72 hours or if any new symptoms appear which are potentially terrifying to the patient. There are several factors associated with chronic migraines like women patients, a family history of migraines, mood disorders such as depression, anxiety, or bipolar disorders, sleep disorders etc.

Most people will experience a headache at some point in their lives. Not all headaches are the same, as they range in severity, frequency, and cause. Headache disorders can significantly impact a person’s ability to function and reduce their overall quality of life. Therefore, accurate diagnoses are so important.

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About the Author

Dr Anil Venkitachalam, Consultant - (Neurology) and Movement Disorders, Nanavati Max Super Speciality Hospital ...Read More

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