The Reality of Chronic Migraine

Understanding your diagnosis and assembling resources to help you cope

Millions of people live with Chronic Migraine, and that number grows each year. Receiving a diagnosis of Chronic Migraine isn’t the end of your quest to understand your frequent headache attacks: it’s the beginning of your journey to find and enact a treatment plan that works for you. If you are living with Chronic Migraine, know that you’re not alone. Read on for information to help you understand the disease, how it differs from other types of migraine, and how to get the help you need.

What Makes Chronic Migraine Different?

Chronic Migraine is characterized by recurrent headache attacks that happen 15 or more days per month. At least eight days per month, these headaches will include the features of migraine headache: They’ll last between four and 72 hours, the pain will be moderate to severe, and additional symptoms may include nausea or sensitivity to light and sound. These migraine attacks might be accompanied by aura, among other symptoms beyond head pain. That means that people living with Chronic Migraine have more headache days marked by debilitating pain each month than they have pain-free days.

Who’s Affected by Chronic Migraine

More than 4 million adults experience Chronic Migraine, 85% of whom are women. Studies estimate that 2.5% of people with Episodic Migraine (fewer than 15 headaches per month) will transition to Chronic Migraine every year. Risk factors for progression from Episodic to Chronic Migraine include a high baseline frequency of attacks (8-14 days per month), anxiety, depression, obesity, snoring, caffeine, stressful life events and acute headache medication overuse. Some risk factors, like a genetic predisposition for Chronic Migraine, can’t be controlled. But others are within your control: some lifestyle changes can reduce the likelihood of progression to Chronic Migraine. Avoiding acute headache medication overuse (including over-the-counter drugs), stress and frequent consumption of caffeine can help reduce the risk of Chronic Migraine or the frequency of attacks, as can getting adequate sleep, exercising and eating a balanced diet.

When to Talk to a Doctor

Episodic Migraine can progress into Chronic Migraine. Working with a headache specialist can help prevent this from happening, by managing your migraine symptoms early on. Maintaining a headache diary can help your care team determine if your symptoms have changed or if your headache attacks are occurring more frequently. This information can also help your doctor determine if you have Chronic Migraine.

Treating Chronic Migraine

Your treatment plan will vary depending on your diagnosis, but it might include preventive medication, the avoidance of risk factors, and non-drug techniques like biofeedback assisted relaxation therapy.

For those living with Chronic Migraine, managing the pain is the most important aspect of improving one’s quality of life. Don’t hesitate to contact a headache specialist who can help customize a treatment plan for you. Find a doctor in your area who specializes headache medicine to start your journey towards a better quality of life.