Neurology Insights

When to See a Migraine Specialist

Woman holding her head after having a migraine, before seeking the help of a migraine specialist in Naples, FL

According to the World Health Organization, migraine falls under the top ten most disabling diseases on the planet. Its effects are so widespread that migraine accounts for 36 billion dollars a year in healthcare and lost productivity costs in the United States alone.

When it comes to migraine, know that you do not have to suffer through this condition blindly, as there are many ways migraines can be managed to promote a better way of life.

Migraine vs. Headache: What's the difference?

Due to their similarities, migraines tend to be dismissed and mistaken for headaches. However, it is important to note that while migraine is a form of headache, it is a much more severe neurological condition that can bring about debilitating symptoms that interfere with a person’s quality of life.

Review the following symptoms below if you suspect you may be suffering from migraine disorder:

Migraine vs. Headache Symptoms

Migraine Symptoms Headache Symptoms
Sudden onset of throbbing/ dull pain

that is noticeably worse on one side of the head

Slow onset of pain and discomfort that ranges throughout the head and face
Extreme sensitivity to light (and sound) None to rare sensitivity to light and sound
Accompanied by additional symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, numbness, dizziness, and chills In certain cases, it may be accompanied by congestion or mild facial swelling
Visual disturbances such as aura, blurry vision, and seeing stars or zigzag lines are typical Visual changes are not typical
Symptoms last anywhere from 4 hours to 2 or 3 days Symptoms can come and go lasting anywhere from minutes to hours
Condition is frequent and reoccurring Onset is infrequent or seasonal due to a specific trigger
Debilitating and interferes with mundane tasks and activities It may be managed with mild treatment

Unlike general headaches, patients often describe telltale signs and symptoms of migraine right before an attack. Changes in vision and the feeling of a “warning aura” right before an attack are typical signs that a migraine is developing. Some patients even complain of a general fogginess or difficulty with concentration and focus before the migraine.

With migraine, symptoms present suddenly and are not easily managed through over-the-counter medications.

Common Causes of Migraine Disorder

While migraine attacks present similarly from patient to patient, the underlying cause and trigger are unique to each individual.

The following triggers are most commonly reported among migraine patients:

Migraine Causes & Triggers

  • Hormonal fluctuations
  • Dehydration & blood sugar imbalance
  • Food & drink sensitivity (i.e., alcohol, sugar, gluten, caffeine, or caffeine withdrawal)
  • Excess exposure to bright light and loud noises
  • Chronic stress and anxiety
  • Poor sleep
  • Injury or trauma
  • High blood pressure
  • Poor posture and spinal misalignment
  • Sensitivity to odors (i.e., smoke, perfumes, cleaning supplies, etc.)
  • Changes in barometric pressure

When it comes to migraine disorder, pattern awareness is key; if you notice any signs or symptoms presenting before a migraine attack, take note, and work to avoid these triggers as much as possible.

Additional Risk Factors

Data shows that women are more likely to suffer from chronic migraine due to hormonal fluctuations and sensitivities. These hormonal changes can lessen or worsen depending on what stage in the biological cycle the woman is in.

Migraines can also present more frequently in individuals with underlying health conditions, with symptoms triggered by changes in season and lifestyle.

When to See a Migraine Specialist

If you have been suffering from frequent migraines that seem to be a regular part of your life, it is time to see a migraine specialist.

A neurologist specializing in migraine will have the knowledge and expertise to assess your symptoms and additional factors to comprise a treatment plan tailored to your unique situation.

To make the most out of your visit, keep a migraine journal detailing the time and symptoms before your appointment.

Click here to access your Free Printable Neurology Office Migraine Sheet, where you can detail the date, time, severity, triggers, and more…

Diagnosis & Treatment for Migraines

Upon assessment, your neurologist may order diagnostic tests such as laboratories, turn off the lights, EEG, CT, or MRI scans.

Treatments are tailored to each patient’s unique set of factors, including age, previous health conditions, current medications, lifestyle habits, and more.

Successful migraine treatment options include lifestyle changes, preventive and abortive medications, trigger injections, Botox, physical therapy, and more.

When is a Migraine an Emergency? Never Ignore These Symptoms

Extreme throbbing or sudden onset of migraine should not be ignored as they can be signs of more severe events such as:

  • Stroke
  • Brain Aneurysm (ruptured blood vessel in the brain)
  • Brain Hemorrhage (a brain bleed spilling to surrounding tissue)
  • Meningitis (inflammation of the protective brain and spinal cord membrane)
  • Encephalitis (brain infection)

If you or a loved one experience a migraine that stops you in your tracks and can be categorized as “the worst migraine of your life,” it is time to seek emergency attention immediately.

A message from Dr. Kandel

“I often tell my patients that headaches/migraines are a lot like sledding. If you’ve ever been sledding up north, you know the sled will stick the first time you go down the hill. It’s a little better the second and third times, but by the 10th time, you’re flying down the mountain. It becomes easier by the 10th time because you’re setting up a pathway. Migraines do the same thing, and it is called “kindling”… the more migraines you have, the more you will have. That is why it is essential to try to erase that pathway and have fewer migraines, so in the future, you won’t even know what a migraine is anymore. Never give up on seeking your best solution to migraine management. The best migraine is the one you don’t get!”

As we head into the summer season, we encourage all our patients to be mindful of hydration and sun exposure. With proper management, headaches, and migraines can be kept at bay.

For more Neurology insights into headaches and migraine, check out the following Neurology Office resources:

Neurology Office Articles:  

A 3-Step Guide for Treating Summertime Headaches

6 Causes of Summertime Headaches

Experience Relief Through Hydration

Books written by Dr. Kandel: 

Migraine What Works! A Complete Guide to Overcoming and Preventing Pain by Joseph Kandel, M.D., and David B. Sudderth, M.D.  

The Headache Cure by Joseph Kandel, M.D. and David Sudderth, M.D.

Dr. Joseph Kandel portrait

Joseph Kandel, MD

Board Certified Neurologist
Serving Naples and Fort Myers, FL

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“To Cure Sometimes, To Heal Often, To Comfort Always”

Neurology Office, Joseph Kandel M.D. and Associates

Concierge medicine without the concierge price”

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