Last time we were talking about a major shift in migraine thought which may come as a surprise to many people. The shift is this – instead of thinking that most people get "normal" headaches, and a few get migraine attacks, a growing number of experts are suggesting that most headaches are actually from migraine, and that most people with chronic headaches in particular are actually migraineurs. (read Major shift in Migraine Thought? (part 1)
There are a number of reasons this shift has come about. First, new research has shown that your basic "tension headache" is not usually based on muscle tension at all, but is actually something much more complex. Next, a growing understanding of migraine and the mechanism of the migraine chain reaction. And, of course, recent studies have suggested that most people who think they have a sinus headache also have migraine.
Finally, simply a clinical discovery. Many people were walking into the doctor’s office because they were getting severe migraine attacks, but they also had nondescript, basic headaches. When they started being treated for the migraine attacks, they were surprised (and in many cases the doctor no doubt was too!) to discover that the other headaches vanished as well!
So many are coming to the conclusion that both are coming from the same source, and have the same cause.
Of course, you could still say that most headaches are tension-type headaches, but you need to realize that this is a description of what the headache is like, and perhaps how it’s generally treated. Once again, we don’t have a definitive answer when it comes to what actually causes these headaches any more than what causes migraine – and it may be the same thing in both cases.
Why does this shift matter?
So what does this mean to those of us here on the ground? Here are some thoughts, and maybe you’d like to add your own in the comments as well:
- This is an important reminder not to ignore those "other" headaches. Many people are just concerned about that migraine attack, which may be rare, and so they just put up with more frequent headaches that are actually diminishing their quality of life quite a bit. They may seem insignificant next to a blazing migraine attack, but they do add up. You may be able to get treatment for them if you only pay attention and find a doctor that will pay attention as well.
- Equally important, I think that this shift could really help many, many people who have been stuck with chronic headaches but have not been getting what could be successful treatment because they don’t have "typical" migraine symptoms. If you’ve spent any time reading this site, you know that migraine symptoms are not so typical. Even some doctors think you need to be screaming in agony before you’re really having a migraine attack. The truth is that many people suffer for years, lose jobs and have strained relationships due to so-called "lesser" headaches. Treatment is available! Maybe we just need to change the way we think about it.
- On the research side, this could really open our eyes to new possibilities. It could give added momentum to migraine research as people begin to realize just how widespread the problem really is.
- Finally, it could help in one specific area of research – the research that helps us understand why people’s symptoms are so different. If migraine really is so widespread, why is it that it leaves one person bedridden, unable even to drink a sip of water, while for another person there’s just a nagging headache? Why is one person dizzy, and another has stomach pain? Are there truly similar but distinct diseases here, or is it the same disease that shows itself in different ways? It’s very likely that migraine is something that almost everyone experiences as a "natural" response, but that it gets out of control with some people – but why? And could those differences lead to better treatment for certain types of migraine? I think this will be a key to solving the migraine problem.
What do you think? Is this a good development? How could it help, or what are the dangers? Share your thoughts!