Ever heard a friend complain about having “a migraine” when they really just meant a tension headache that’s worse than normal? Or gotten a text about a “2-minute headache hack” they saw on TikTok? When you suffer from migraine, these sorts of comments can make you realize that other people don’t know what you’re going through.
There are all sorts of migraine misconceptions out there, so we made you a quick guide for when it gets to be too much and you feel you need to set the record straight.
“Migraine attacks are just bad headaches”
Let’s be clear: Migraine is an officially recognized medical condition, and the attacks are much more severe than tension headaches (typically you can still go about your regular day with a tension headache). What else makes migraine different?
- The headaches are usually throbbing, on one side of the head only, and tend to get worse when you move around.
- There are other symptoms besides pain: nausea, vomiting, and/or sensitivity to light and sound.
- Attacks tend to follow a distinct pattern of phases, from “prodrome” symptoms before the headache to a “postdrome” recovery phase afterward.
Depending on what type of migraine you have, you may also experience:
- a visual disturbance called “aura”
- dizziness and vertigo
- stomach pain instead of headaches or no head pain at all
“You can sleep off migraine headaches—they only last a day”
One more thing that makes these attacks unique? The length. A migraine attack can last 4–72 hours or even longer if you end up in status migrainosus, so “sleeping it off” is not a foolproof solution.
And while it’s common for people to try, you could wake up in the morning in even more pain. Taking a nap or going to bed early can also mess up your sleep schedule, which can itself trigger an attack.
Speaking of your sleep schedule, let’s talk about the rumor that…
“Caffeine causes migraine headaches”
The relationship between caffeine and migraine is complicated. On the one hand, caffeine is an ingredient in some over-the-counter headache medications like Excedrin® Migraine. Scientists aren’t 100% clear on why it helps, but one of the theories is that caffeine constricts your blood vessels to counter the increased blood flow to your brain that happens during an attack.
On the other hand, drinking large amounts of caffeine (think three or more cups of coffee in a day) may increase your chances of experiencing an attack. Since your brain can develop a tolerance for caffeine, you may find yourself needing more of it over time, which can up your chance of triggering an attack. Meanwhile, caffeine withdrawal is a known headache trigger, so taking a day off is also risky.
We’re not going to say you can never have coffee again. However, we do recommend:
- limiting yourself to 200 mg of caffeine a day (that’s about two eight-ounce cups of coffee, depending on what you’re drinking)
- keeping your daily intake as consistent as possible to avoid a withdrawal headache
- taking it slow if you want to reduce the amount you’re drinking
- tracking your attacks if you think they’re related to how much caffeine you drink
If you’ve had to deal with other people criticizing what you drink, you’ve likely also heard…
“If you get migraine attacks, you’re not drinking enough water”
While dehydration is a common trigger, it’s far from the only one. You are more likely to experience an attack if you’re dealing with multiple triggers at the same time, so it’s always a good idea to pay attention to how parched you’re feeling. Still, you absolutely can get a headache even if you’re fully hydrated.
When it comes down to it, the “cause” of migraine just isn’t that simple. There are all sorts of factors that go into whether you get a headache, including…
“Migraine has nothing to do with mental health”
Let’s talk about stress. In one study, 80% of migraine sufferers said stress triggers headaches for them. There’s also research that suggests experiencing migraine attacks makes you worse at handling stress over time. Which is a problem, because prepping for and managing your attacks is stressful enough to begin with.
You may find it annoying when people suggest yoga or meditation as a treatment for your medical condition, but this is where that advice is coming from. Managing your stress more effectively can reduce the number of headaches you get.
“On the flipside,” says Cove Medical Director and migraine expert Dr. Sara Crystal, “many people, particularly women, are told that their headaches would resolve if they would just relax or reduce their stress. While many migraine sufferers report that stress triggers their attacks, stress is not the cause of migraine.”
Beyond stress, there’s also the upsetting fact that people who suffer from migraine are over 2.5 times more likely to also have depression than people who don’t. Of course, depression is another medical condition that people don’t always treat as seriously as they should, and you may be able to think of a reason why: They’re both more common in people who identify as women. Which leads to another misconception…
“Men don’t get migraine”
In fact, men with migraine are less likely than women to have a formal diagnosis or to see a doctor for their headaches. Whatever your gender, if you think you may be experiencing migraine, we recommend talking to a doctor.
There’s one more variety of myth we hear all the time, which we’re calling…
“You can cure migraine with…”
As much as we wish it were true, science hasn’t found a cure for migraine yet. While the latest research into new treatments like anti-CGRP medications is exciting, you may want to give a little side-eye to any article you see calling a drug like Aimovig® or device like Nerivio® a “miracle cure.” It’s just too soon to say.
You may find a few wild theories on social media as well. Some ideas we’ve heard about how to “cure” migraine include:
- pulling or “cracking” your own hair
- putting garlic in your nose
- smelling a green apple
- standing on your head
- wearing a goat-hair headband
To be clear, there is no scientific basis for any of these ideas.
The truth about migraine is it’s complicated, and scientists are still working on what causes it and how best to treat it. Until we get there, there are plenty of things you can do to manage your condition, from medication to alternative treatments and more. Fortunately, Cove is here to help you get started.
The information provided in this article is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. You should not rely upon the content provided in this article for specific medical advice. If you have any questions or concerns, please talk to your doctor.
Photo by Crystal Shaw on Unsplash.