Why Migraine is NOT Just a Headache

By Sarah Faith
How many of us have often heard of our migraines referred to as simply “bad or severe headaches.” Commercials for migraine medicine, friends and family, even doctors perpetuate the idea that although sometimes severe, the migraine is simply a headache with the directly related symptoms. We ourselves, as migraine sufferers, often believe that that is precisely what that diagnosis entails, and that alone.

I, in fact, even with my medical background and much research into migraines and their cause, etc. believed that very notion for years. As a result, I was desperately searching for some explanation of all of my “other” symptoms, seemingly very ambiguous symptoms, that often occurred without the co-existing pain.

I mean, I could completely understand the nausea which accompanied my pain when it was severe enough, or the blurry vision, the sensitivity to light and sound, and more. THAT made sense to me. But what of all the random symptoms I experienced that were NOT accompanied by severe pain?

It is true, that head pain is one of the most common symptoms of migraine and is present in the majority of those with this diagnosis. However, there is, in fact, a myriad of other symptoms that occur with or WITHOUT the presence of head pain.

Migraine is so much more than “just a headache” and the other symptoms that are directly related to the pain. Migraine is a complex neurological disease that affects your central nervous system and is caused by abnormal brain biochemistry as well as genetics.
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(Above: Diagram of how migraine and the CNS work together; via The Hearty Soul)

So, one, it is a disease process. And two, it affects your entire central nervous system.  
The central nervous system is responsible for the integration of all sensory information and the body’s response to these stimuli.

Therefore, there is basis for a tremendous number of symptoms occurring in the body, based on the abnormal biochemistry of the brain, that again, can occur with or without the telltale headache.

When I was in high school, one of my best friends would often be out for several days at a time with severe nausea and vomiting, but no pain. She was diagnosed with migraine.  I absolutely could not understand this at the time, because I had been having migraines with primarily severe head pain since I was three and thought, as most do, that that was pretty much all it entailed: headache. I look back now with more knowledge and understand so much better the similarities and differences we shared as two people diagnosed with migraine.

I was so unbelievably relieved to discover the truth about migraine and the disease process behind it because, as I said before, I was experiencing so many random symptoms outside of my pain that I felt like either I was a crazy hypochondriac or there MUST be some separate diagnosis to explain them.
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(Above: Demonstration of how pain occurs in migraine through blood vessels, via MedLine Plus).

I don’t know about all of you readers, but I even found myself in tears every time I had a clean MRI or had other things such as MS ruled out. How ungrateful does THAT seem? But I’m sure all of you know what it is like to want to KNOW what is happening to you regardless of how bad it might be. Having a concrete answer puts our anxieties at rest.

I hope that the explanation put forth here helps some of you to understand that you are NOT crazy. Your symptoms are REAL, and your diagnosis of migraine doesn’t have to match that of everyone else. We are all different in our experiences. And they are under the umbrella of a very definitive diagnosis… that of migraine.
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