Migraine Awareness Day: Are patients with chronic headaches often misdiagnosed?


There is a difference between a migraine headache and a regular one. Migraines can have a negative impact on not just the patient, but also their families, co-workers and the society. Which is why it is important to diagnose and treat patients in a timely manner.

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Despite its debilitating impacts on health and overall quality of life, migraine remains one of the most “undiagnosed, undertreated, underfunded and under-recognised” medical conditions, says Dr Jitendra Sharma, classified specialist (medicine and neurology), Base Hospital, Delhi Cantt.

Citing research, the doctor says that most people do not receive an accurate diagnosis for their migraine headaches for several years. “With chronic migraine, only 1 in 20 patients find the correct diagnosis and guided treatment,” he says.

It should be noted that some chronic and mild conditions have similar symptoms and so, patients are diagnosed with these instead of migraine, which can further delay their treatment therapies.

According to Dr Sharma, here are some of them:

1. Tension headaches: These are one of the most common types of headaches, which are usually stress-induced and carry similar symptoms to that of migraine, such as photophobia, nausea, incessant pain, etc. Chronic tension headaches can gradually transform into migraines, which require correct diagnosis.

2. Sinus headaches: A number of migraine patients feel they are experiencing a sinus headache. These headaches are somewhat rare and are developed due to a bacterial/viral sinus infection. Patients may feel facial pain and headache until the infection completely disappears.

A number of migraine patients feel they are experiencing a sinus headache. (Photo: Getty/Thinkstock)

3. Anxiety: It is common for migraines to be perceived as anxiety or panic attacks. Symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, headache, and lightheadedness are common. There is a fair chance for a migraine patient developing anxious emotions due to the presence of the condition eventually.

4. Neck pain and headaches: Migraine patients commonly experience neck pain and headaches. A poor posture and shoulder tension can be a cause, or it can be overworking or lounging in uncomfortable positions. If the pain is accompanied by nausea, vomiting, triggered by light and noise, and other environmental factors, the patient may suffer from migraine.

5. Eye strain: Conditions such as dry eyes, injury to the eye, degenerative eye disease, uncorrected nearsightedness and farsightedness, lead to headaches. It is important to analyse that these headaches are not disabling and not as recurrent. One needs to understand the difference between the two headaches.

Migraine is not completely curable, but 70 per cent of it can be controlled and managed. It is imperative for one to understand the triggers as they vary from person-to-person. If one suffers from core symptoms such as recurrent and disabling headaches, one must visit a specialist — a neurologist. They can help find the root cause of migraine by understanding the symptoms,” the doctor concludes.

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