How do I know if I’m having a migraine? How many migraines should I experience before I see a doctor? How bad do the migraines need to be to warrant medical attention?
These are questions I hear frequently from patients and, unfortunately, there is not a ‘one size fits all’ answer. The severity, frequency and triggers of a migraine headache can drastically vary from person to person, making it hard to determine when it’s time to see a doctor. Use my guide below to help identify if your headache could be a migraine and, based on your headache patterns, if medical attention could be beneficial.
What is a Migraine?
A Migraine is a recurrent, moderate to severe headache that usually lasts four to seven hours. Migraines can vary from patient to patient, as well as from episode to episode, but they are typically accompanied by one or more of the following symptoms:
- An intense pulsing and/or throbbing component to the pain (versus the milder, dull pressure associated with a tension headache)
- Pain that is localized on one side of the head
- Pain that worsens with movement
- Sensitivity to light and sound
- Nausea, vomiting and/or dizziness
- Visual disturbances, such as flickering lights, blind spots or zig-zag lines lasting anywhere from five to sixty minutes
If you’re experiencing a headache with any of these symptoms, it’s very likely that you are having a migraine.
When to See a Doctor?
For some migraine sufferers, a migraine is an inconvenience, but not a debilitating condition, and various coping strategies, prevention techniques and over-the-counter drugs are sufficient to get through each migraine episode. But for others, these tactics are not enough and a doctor visit may be beneficial in finding relief.
The first step in determining if it’s time to see a doctor is to start tracking your headaches: dates they occur, symptoms you experience, food, drink or medication consumed before they start, and any activities participated in prior to onset. This information, and any patterns it uncovers, will help you and your doctor understand if you are suffering from migraines, how often they’re occurring and what may be triggering them. It is highly recommended that you consult with a headache specialist or neurologist if you are experiencing any of the following:
- 3 or more headaches a week
- Headaches that continue to worsen and/or don’t fully subside
- Requiring a pain reliever and/or over-the-counter medication on a daily basis to manage your symptoms
- Changes in your headache symptoms
- 4 or more headaches in a month
Note that if you are experiencing a headache with any of the below symptoms, seek immediate medical attention, as these could be indicative of a much more serious problem, such as infection, stroke or bleeding.
- Fever and chills
- Numbness or weakness
- Complete loss of vision
- Problems with your speech or walking
- A sharp and stabbing pain in the head have a pain in the head that is sharp and stabbing
- If you’ve recently been in an accident or struck your head
Based on a medical history and neurological exam, your doctor will be able to help determine the best treatment plan for your specific set of symptoms.
The main thing to remember is that if your headaches are disrupting your life, it’s time to take control. Pay attention to your symptoms, listen to your body and know that migraines aren’t something that have to be suffered through. See a specialist to better manage your migraines and take back control of your life!