Life with recurring migraines can be uncertain. You don't know when the next headache will strike, and you don’t always know whether your medicine will work.
Finding the right treatment for migraines that keep coming back depends on open communication between you and your doctor. You need to know you’re being heard, and you need clear answers to your questions.
At the same time, your doctor relies on you to provide accurate information on your symptoms, the medicines you take, and lifestyle habits that may affect your health. You can take several steps to ensure this happens.
Important Facts to Share With Your Doctor
To make sure you have enough time to discuss your migraines with your doctor, it's best to make an appointment specifically for that reason. Don't try to fit it in as part of a visit for other reasons.
If you have a particular goal for your appointment, such as a more effective treatment, a referral to a specialist, or a better understanding of what causes your headaches, tell your doctor at the beginning.
Your doctor will want specifics about your health to help them decide on the next steps. Everyone experiences migraine differently, so details matter.
Because it can be challenging to cover everything, it helps to bring written notes or your headache journal. Many migraine apps also allow you to easily share information with your doctor.
Your doctor might want to know about:
- Symptoms: This includes when they tend to start and how long they last. Rate your pain on a scale of 1-10. What is it like: dull, throbbing, burning? And where do you feel it -- on one side of your head, around your eyes, or elsewhere?
- Medicines: Your doctor needs to know about all prescription and over-the-counter (OTC) medicines you take, including vitamins and supplements. That includes what dose you take and how often. Note which medicines you've taken for headache, when in your attack you've taken them, and how well they worked.
- Other health concerns: Make your doctor aware of any other health issues you have, even if you don't think they’re connected to migraine.
- Sleep: Tell your doctor if you have trouble falling asleep, staying asleep, or don’t feel rested in the morning.
- Lifestyle: If you tend to skip meals, or if a certain food or drink affects your headaches, let your doctor know. Be honest about how much you smoke or drink alcohol.
- Major life events: Life changes and potential stressors can affect your migraines.
- Impact: Are you unable to fulfill your daily obligations or keep up with work or school? Help your doctor understand how your migraines affect your life.
Over time, tracking your information in a journal or app can help you notice things that trigger your attacks, what helps, and what makes things worse. You can then share these impressions with your doctor.
Questions to Ask Your Doctor About Your Migraines
Good communication also involves asking questions. And there’s nothing wrong with asking for clarification when you don’t understand the answers. Here are some questions you might ask your doctor and why they’re important.
- Why do I have so many headaches? Knowing the cause of your recurring migraines helps inform the next steps.
- Am I having rebound headaches? Rebound headaches are also known as medication overuse headaches. In people with headache disorders, this can happen even if you’re taking pain relievers for a reason other than head pain. If medication overuse is contributing to your migraines, your doctor can help you get back on track.
- Do you suspect any particular triggers? Your doctor may notice a pattern you haven’t. Understanding your triggers helps you avoid them.
- Have we ruled out other causes for head pain? Other health conditions can cause or contribute to headaches. If there’s something else going on, you need to identify and treat it.
- Am I using my medications correctly? Make sure you’re taking the right dose at the right time, and you aren’t mixing medicines that could interact with each other.
- Do I need to try a new treatment? If one medication is no longer working for you, there may be other drugs or other treatments that can help.
- Are there nondrug treatments or lifestyle adjustments I can make? Nondrug treatments, such as biofeedback, help some people. Your doctor may also have recommendations about diet, exercise, sleep, and reducing stress.
- Should I use preventive medication? When migraines make it difficult to function, it's time to think about preventive medications. But it’s important to discuss potential side effects and review your overall health.
It’s easy to forget your questions in the moment, so consider making a list to bring with you.
When Migraine Treatment Doesn’t Work
Migraines and their triggers can change over time, so your treatment may have to change as well. Let your doctor know if your treatment plan no longer works as well as it used to.
If you're using an abortive medication (the type that stops a headache once it starts) and have frequent migraines, your doctor may suggest a preventive medicine. These drugs can’t prevent all migraines, but may cut down the number and severity of episodes.
Whenever you start a new treatment, talk to your doctor about how to use it safely. Ask about correct dosing, potential side effects, and interactions with other medications or supplements. Ask for written instructions if you think they'll help. And always let your doctor know if you have new symptoms or side effects.
Photo Credit: Morsa Images / Getty Images
American Headache Society: “How Migraine Evolves With Age.”
Headache: The Journal of Head and Face Pain: “The American Headache Society Consensus Statement: Update on integrating new migraine treatments into clinical practice.”
StatPearls: “Migraine Medications.”
Cleveland Clinic: “Migraine Headaches.”
Mayo Clinic: "Migraine," “Medication overuse headaches.”
National Headache Foundation: "Talking to Your Headache Care Provider," "Headache Diary: Keeping a Diary Can Help Your Doctor Help You," "Headache Diary."
The Migraine Trust: "Visiting Your GP."
The University of Utah: “How to Take to Your Doctor About Headaches.”
American Migraine Foundation: "Taking to Your Doctor About Migraine."