Are migraines dangerous? When you start getting all those crazy symptoms of migraine, not to mention the explosive, drilling, pulsating pain, it’s easy to start wondering what kind of damage it’s doing to your body. Will I have brain damage? Is this going to cause mental illness? Do I have a tumour?
Because of this, we tend to swing back and forth between reassuring patients, and then encouraging them to get treatment.
In other words, if a doctor tells you it’s not serious, you may be more likely to "make do" with some painkillers. If your doctor tells you it’s serious, you might panic and take something you shouldn’t, or simply end up with extra stress.
But somewhere in here, isn’t it important that patients also know the truth?
Now, keep reading, because I do want to give you some helpful information. But I’m afraid when you ask Are Migraines Dangerous?, the answer is – yes, no, and we don’t know.
Are migraines dangerous? I would prefer to ask Is migraine dangerous?, because migraine is a disease whereas, technically, individual migraine attacks can happen to anyone. And if you have an isolated attack, there’s no question – you need to go to a doctor right away. Any time you have a different or worst-ever headache, you go to the doctor because it could be very dangerous.
So let’s go on and talk about migraine in general. If you’re asking if migraine could shorten your life, increase risk of other diseases, and significantly decrease your "quality of life", the answer is YES. Migraine can be very dangerous.
Consider comorbid conditions. Consider the possible increased risk of stroke and heart disease. Consider the impact of the severe pain, nausea, and other symptoms of migraine on your body. Consider the hours when you’re not productive, when you’re not even able to get out of bed. What does that do to your job, your relationships?
I’m not suggesting the migraineur can’t overcome these things and have a great life. But I am suggesting that migraine is worth taking the time to treat. You should not just make do with migraine – it can indeed be dangerous.
This doesn’t even get into the question of how migraine can progress. It seems that migraine does do some increasing damage to your body over time, and there’s some debate over how migraine may become more and more dangerous over time.
Is migraine dangerous? Well, on the other hand, it likely isn’t as serious as your body seems to be telling you. In other words, you may feel like you’re going to die during an attack, but you probably won’t (again, if this is a worst-ever attack – see your doctor right away). You’re probably going to be all right. And there is good treatment available to help you deal with future attacks, or even avoid them.
Even the risk of stroke and heart disease needs to be balanced – your risk may increase, but that doesn’t mean tomorrow is heart attack day.
In the end, there’s still a lot we don’t know. Frankly, we’re still trying to understand just how dangerous migraine really is.
How can we summarize? Let me say it this way. Is migraine dangerous? If you mean is this attack going to kill me right now (or do serious damage), the answer is: probably not. If you’re asking about long term life impact of migraine disease – yes, it is. That may not mean an early death, but it does mean a very significant impact on your life.
Back to what we should do – just a reminder:
- If you have a different or worst-ever headache, see a doctor right away – it probably isn’t very dangerous, but there’s enough of a chance that it could be.
- Don’t add to your stress during a migraine attack. This attack alone is probably not going to do serious long-term damage. You will feel better! (I recognize some people have pain all the time – that’s a different story, because it may take a lot of time and treatment before you feel better. We need to be honest about that! Still, only one day of pain is not going to finish you off.)
- Over time, migraine may be dangerous. We don’t fully understand how dangerous. But it can have a very significant impact on your life. Don’t put off getting good treatment, because it can do damage to your body and life. Too many people delay too long, when they could have had good treatment.
Learn more about what actually happens during a migraine attack here.