10 Migraine Myths and Misperceptions, Debunked

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“Migraines aren’t just really bad headaches.” That’s the battle cry of many a migraine sufferer when confronted with one of many migraine myths. Sometimes (most often), it’s not worth the stress and ultimate migraine headache to try to set the record straight with everybody you meet. Still, there comes a time when you need to speak up for yourself and migraineurs everywhere. For those occasions, it helps to be prepared with a few facts and a great comeback. Here are some good replies to the most common myths regarding migraines and chronic pain.

10 Migraine Myths and Misperceptions, Debunked

1- Alternative treatments are useless with migraines.

The age of herbal remedies and natural treatments being regarded as some sort of “witchcraft” is over.

Today, increasing scientific evidence proves that complementary alternative medicine (CAM) is the best, most effective way of maintaining neurological health and controlling blood flow to the brain, both of which are factors in successful migraine management.

Recommended natural ingredients and therapies for migraines include:

  • Vitamins (vitamin B2- riboflavin, coenzyme Q10)
  • Minerals (magnesium)
  • Herbs (butterbur)
  • Massage
  • Acupuncture
  • Yoga
  • Biofeedback
  • Low-impact aerobics

2- Some natural ingredients for migraines, like butterbur, are poisonous.

Not all brands of butterbur are unsafe.

Certain types of butterbur (Petasites hybridus) may contain pyrrolizidine alkaloids (PAs), a toxic chemical that may cause liver damage. However, butterbur root that is processed for removal of PAs are as safe to use as traditional migraine medications, and cause no harmful side effects. Before buying butterbur pills, check that they are marked “PA-free.”

Butterbur is recognized by the American Academy of Neurology as extremely helpful in promoting good health and establishing a biological environment that is beneficial for migraine-free living, without causing any of the ill effects of conventional migraine preventative medicines, such as Topamax.

10 Migraine Myths and Misperceptions, Debunked

3- Migraines are just really bad headaches.

Actually, migraines are recognized as a neurological disorder.

This is perhaps one of the most hurtful (albeit unintentionally) statements heard by migraine sufferers around the world. Yes, the pain is horrific, and yes, headaches are a nearly-constant symptom of migraine attacks.  (Not all migraine attacks cause headaches.)

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Still, other symptoms (some of them stroke-like) that often accompany migraine attacks are equally debilitating, including:

  • 10 Migraine Myths and Misperceptions, DebunkedSharp eye pain
  • Inability to tolerate bright lights, strong scents, or loud noises
  • Cyclic vomiting
  • Intense nausea
  • Visual disturbances
  • Brain fog
  • Fatigue
  • Temporary partial blindness and paralysis
  • Speech slurring, incomprehensive communication
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Muscular weakness

4- Chronic pain always requires hospital treatment.

Just because I’m not in a hospital, that doesn’t mean I’m not suffering.

Chronic pain doesn’t necessarily require admission to a hospital, and neither do migraines. Ultimate migraine pain management is safer, more practical, and most effective if practiced at home and at work.

However, in dire circumstances, such as head injury, heart palpitations, unusually excruciating headaches, paralysis, or abnormal pain symptoms you should not hesitate to call emergency services.

5- Real pain is always a result of a physical injury or illness.

Sometimes, the cause of chronic pain is not immediately apparent.

With chronic pain such as fibromyalgia, severe pain occurs in the absence of any noticeable injury or illness, such as arthritis or a broken bone. That doesn’t mean that the pain isn’t real; it just means that diagnosing the underlying cause for pain will require many doctor’s visits, tests, and scans.

6- Migraine sufferers are mentally ill.

Migraine disorder is comorbid with several other illnesses, including emotional disorders, but it is still a separate disease in its own right.

The fact that depression and anxiety are highly correlated with migraines doesn’t mean that all migraine sufferers have some sort of mental illness, nor does it prove any causation between migraines and mental illness. Heart disease patients may also be prone to feelings of despair and anger, but that doesn’t mean they are mentally ill, either. It only means that where a certain illness (like migraine) exists, emotional problems (depression, anxiety) are often, but not always, also a factor.

7- Only medication can relieve migraines.

Migraine prevention requires a multi-pronged approach.

Managing migraines is a lifetime pursuit that involves a strict routine of healthy dieting, exercise, stress reduction, avoiding migraine triggers, and yes, finding the right medication for migraine prophylaxis. None of these things will “cure” migraines, as there is no known cure, but they can help you achieve a level of neurological health that is conducive to a life without migraine headaches.

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10 Migraine Myths and Misperceptions, Debunked

8- Chronic pain is only for old people.

Migraine sufferers usually experience their worst migraines in their 30s and 40s.

It’s true that your muscles and bones become weaker with age, resulting in painful arthritis and osteoporosis.  Still, a large number of middle-aged adults between the ages of 35 and 50 experience severe chronic pain symptoms such as rheumatoid arthritis, back pain, fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, and migraine headaches.

9- Complaining about migraine headaches means that you’re weak.

Giving voice to my pain is the first step towards treating it.

Unless you acknowledge that constant headaches, nausea, and fatigue are making it difficult for you to manage life, then you will never get the treatment you deserve.  It takes incredible courage to admit that you are in pain, and even more courage and stick-to-itiveness to go through the motions of finding the right migraine treatment for your pain.  There are many ups and downs in chronic pain management, and only positive thinking and strength of character will see you through.

10- If you need opioids, then you must be a junkie.

There’s a difference between addiction and dependency.

A migraine sufferer using narcotic painkillers to relieve severe pain is not a drug addict. The fact that you use prescription medicine to reduce excruciating pain is reasonable and acceptable, provided you use them as instructed by your physician.

On the other hand, somebody who takes the same medication just to get high, and doesn’t suffer from any kind of chronic pain, is by all accounts a drug addict.

Still, it’s worth noting that certain migraine drugs can have uncomfortable or dangerous side effects, such as memory loss, chronic fatigue, hair loss, weight gain, and headaches (ironically).

Never attempt to wean yourself off a migraine drug on your own- always consult your physician first.

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