What Is A Chronic Migraine?

'Understanding Can Change Your Approach Radically'

The Short Answer

If a migraine is no laughing matter then chronic migraines are Satan on steroids. Just as a migraine can floor even the strongest willed of people, so chronic migraines can literally destroy your life. But there is some good news…

Chronic migraines do not have to be a permanent fixture. Once you know what a chronic migraine is, then there are ways of at least reducing their frequency to a more manageable level.

That is the help I hope to offer in this article – an understanding of what is a chronic migraine and what you can do about one.

By Definition – 

Strictly speaking, chronic migraines are not actually a type of migraine at all. It is actually about your migraines’ frequency of occurrence.

You are said to be suffering with a ‘chronic migraine’ if you’ve have had 15 days or more in a month that you have been suffering with one or more headaches/ migraines. At least 8 of these days must have included headaches that have been definable as ‘migrainious’ (resembling a migraine in symptoms and severity).

What Is A Chronic Migraine?

In trying to further clarify what is a chronic migraine, The International Headache Society added an additional criteria – that this minimum of 15 headache days must have occurred for at least each of the last 3 months.

In some journals the term ‘chronic migraine’ is replaced with ‘transformative migraine’.

The opposite (and by far the most common form of migraine) is known as an ‘episodic migraine’ – effectively meaning occasional, more sporadic and less frequent.

This is then, not surprisingly defined as headaches/ migraines that typically occur on less than 15 days a month 

However, while a chronic migraine now exists as a diagnostic entity, if asking truly ‘what is a chronic migraine?’, then the answer has to be based purely on the frequency of occurrence of your current migraine types and not clinical type of it’s own.

Indeed, when looking at the various actual types of migraine (ocular/ retinal/ abdominal etc), then these can be further classified as either chronic or episodic, depending on how frequent and regular they occur.

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Is It Really Important To Understand What Is A Chronic Migraine?

Absolutely yes – for two main reasons…

1) The first is because although ‘chronic migraines’ are relatively rare, any migraine that occurs this regularly is very likely to be absolutely life destroying.

Indeed, even though they are frequently described as rare, they still affect approx. 1% of the population – that means millions across the globe are suffering the most extreme life changing headache/ migraine symptoms on a continual basis.

Sufferers will be taking significant time off work, school and family activities.

Even when they are back, the chances are their productivity will be significantly lower for a considerable period of time as their body recovers in what is commonly known a ‘migraine hangover’.

Due to their continuous nature, there is a also frequently a build-up of disruption as sufferers become more and more tired/ weak in fighting such headaches. For these reasons, it is certainly fair to comment that the impact of chronic migraines, is far greater than that of episodic migraines.

This is backed up by several studies on the burden of chronic migraines including by the American Headache Society in 2009.

2) The second really important reason why it’s worth considering how frequently your migraines occur, is that according to a recent study in 2017 published in ‘frontiers in neurology’, up to 73% of chronic migraine sufferers over use headache medications.

What does this mean? Well, it means that while trying to counter your migraine with meds, you may actually be making them worse, not least by bringing on a whole range of other drug side effects.

Medication Headaches…

This phenomenon of ‘medication overuse headaches’ is extremely prevalent amongst chronic migraine sufferers because of the almost daily nature of their pain.

The temptation is to continue taking the medication almost non-stop because they are continually in pain.

Unfortunately, most painkillers and the newly-established gold standard Triptans are not meant to be taken daily over a prolonged period.

We have written previously about the dangers of taking painkillers on a continual basis, even if it something as mild as ibuprofen or aspirin, both of which now at last have documents risks against long-term usage (aspirin in particular was one that has in the past been recommended by family doctors for daily use).

If you find yourself in this position (taking headache medications/ painkillers on a daily basis), then it is vital that you visit your family doctor to put together a plan for reducing those levels dramatically.

One of the reasons chronic migraines are so destructive is because their frequency wears you down – not enabling you to properly recover from one before flooring you again.

Painkiller addiction is just of the desperate ways people get stuck trying to escape.

When Should You Visit Your Doctor?

There are two basic times when you should definitely visit your doctor to discuss your migraines –

  • The 1st time you experience a migraine
  • If your migraines start presenting new symptoms.

These new symptoms could be anything, but you should consider it an absolute priority to get to your doctor if these symptoms include any of the following –

  • Confusion
  • Seizures
  • Blurry/ double vision
  • Numbness in other areas of your body
  • Severe Nausea or Vomiting
  • Dizziness
  • Weakness
  • Trouble Speaking
  • Fever
  • Rashes
  • Stiff Neck
  • Shortness of breath

These symptoms could all be part of your migraine, but may also be caused by something else as well.

In such a case, it is always best to get it checked out first.

The Final Word –

Hopefully, that has spread some light what is a chronic migraine, why it is relevant to know if you suffer with them and what you can do to treat them.

As debilitating as the occasional episodic migraines are, they are nothing in comparison to the daily wearing down of chronic migraines.

The seemingly never-ending pain, light/ sound sensitivity, sickness, diarrhoea, sweating – to name just a few common symptoms. One day of these is enough, to suffer almost without end is like a living hell.

The light at the end of the tunnel is to reduce the frequency down to normal ‘levels’ (if there is such a thing), through the use of natural treatments, rather than drugs. Success is by no means easy, but it is much better than the alternative.

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References –

1. The International Headache Society. https://www.ihs-headache.org/
2. Olesen J, Bousser MG, Diener HC, Dodick D, First M, Goadsby PJ, Göbel H, Lainez MJ, Lance JW, Lipton RB, Nappi G, Sakai F, Schoenen J, Silberstein SD, Steiner TJ. (June 2006). New appendix criteria open for a broader concept of chronic migraine. Cephalalgia.
3. Julie Munakata MS, Elisabeth Hazard PhD, Daniel Serrano MS, David Klingman PhD, Marcia F.T. Rupnow PhD, Jonothan Tierce CPhil, Michael Reed PhD and Richard B. Lipton MD. Economic Burden of Transformed Migraine: Results From the American Migraine Prevalence and Prevention (AMPP) Study. Headache (The Journal Of Head and Face Pain)

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