Chronic Migraine: Symptoms, Causes, Treatments

Chronic migraine is a condition in which patients experience more than 15 migraine headache days per month. While having a chronic migraine may heavily interfere with normal daily function, things aren't hopeless. You can learn how to manage and take care of your migraine with proper treatment.



The primary focus should be on preventive treatment of chronic migraine. Preventive treatments are crucial for stopping medication overuse that's often a problem for migraine patients. Since prevention is based on catching the migraines early, you need to know more about warning signals, symptoms, and common triggers of chronic migraine headaches.

What Causes Chronic Migraine?

Chronic migraine develops due to a lot of factors. It's caused by similar things as episodic migraine headaches. While some migraines are hereditary, others are connected to the environment.

The most common triggers are:

  • Stress
  • Certain food types and alcohol
  • Bright or blue light
  • Lack of sleep
  • Hormone imbalance

Chronic migraine usually starts as episodic, then gradually becomes more frequent. A steady progression in headache frequency is more common with women due to hormonal shifts.

An increase in migraine frequency may develop due to:

  • Medication overuse.
  • Mood disorders like anxiety and depression
  • Ongoing sleep deprivation
  • Excessive caffeine intake
  • Emotional or physical trauma

 Each migraine is different, so healthcare professionals advise journaling to keep track of your unique migraine patterns and triggers. If you're able to identify the cause of your migraine, you'll have more success in stopping the next migraine.

Doctors are learning more about headache disorders each day, so it's crucial to visit a doctor once you notice migraine symptoms. Schedule an appointment at the clinic to get medical advice, diagnosis, and information about chronic migraine treatment. A neurologist will base the diagnosis on your medical history, symptoms, and physical examination.

According to the Mayo Clinic, the doctor may ask for additional tests like an MRI or a CT scan. These tests will rule out other causes for your pain such as tumors, strokes, bleeding in the brain, infections, and other brain and neurological conditions.

What Is the Difference Between a Migraine and Chronic Migraine?

International Headache Society defines chronic migraine as a headache that's occurring on 15 or more days/month for more than 3 months. International Headache Society also notes that for at least 8 days/month a headache must be accompanied by other migraine symptoms.

The main difference between episodic migraine (EM) and chronic migraine (CM) is the frequency. If months pass between your migraine attacks, you don't have a chronic migraine disorder.

People who suffer from episodic migraines may develop chronic migraine headaches. That's why every headache specialist advises keeping an accurate log of your migraine experience. You have to notice the progression from episodic to chronic migraine so that you can react on time and get the necessary help.

Characteristics of an episodic migraine are:

  • Duration of a migraine attack is less than 24 hours
  • 0 to 14 headache days per month
  • Usual migraine symptoms like throbbing pain, nausea, sensory problems, etc.

 Characteristics of chronic migraine:

  • Longer duration of migraine attacks, with symptoms lasting for more than 4 hours at a time
  • Migraine-related problems appear on more than 15 days a month

 Episodic migraine is a lot more common than CM. Chronic migraine affects around 1% of people, according to the research of the American Migraine Foundation. Research studies also estimate that 2.5% of people with episodic migraine develop a chronic migraine each year. 

Is Chronic Migraine a Disease?

Chronic migraine is a prevalent neurological disease. Some healthcare professionals call it a condition. Nevertheless, chronic migraine is a  disorder that affects work, school, and personal life.

How Many Migraines Are Too Many?

According to the  American Migraine Foundation research study, there are four distinct states of migraine frequency:

  • No migraines at all (0 headache days)
  • Low-frequency episodic migraine (less than 10 days per month)
  • High-frequency EM (10-14 headache days)
  • Chronic migraine (at least 15 days per month)

 Someone may argue that more than one migraine a month is too many, but, as you can see, to get a chronic migraine diagnosis, you need to have much more frequent headaches.

What Does It Mean if You Constantly Get Migraines?

Mayo Clinic experts say that daily headaches can be a part of various conditions. Between chronic migraine, chronic tension-type headache, Hemicrania continua, new daily persistent headache, and other chronic daily headache disorders, you may feel overwhelmed. But don't worry! If you're unsure of your migraine type and progression, you can always find a doctor that can give you medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.

You should definitely see a doctor if you:

  • have more than two headaches a week (don't have to be migraine headaches)
  • can't relieve the headache without pain killers
  • are experiencing disabling headaches
  • experience severe and sudden pain
  • notice unusual symptoms like fever, double vision, numbness, or difficulty speaking
  • can't sleep due to severe pain
  • notice changes in your regular migraine and headache patterns



How Do You Live With Chronic Migraines?

If you're part of the 1% that battles chronic migraine, you need to find a way to live with this condition. First things first: find the risk factors you can control. While you can't influence your genetic predisposition for chronic migraine headaches, you could make some lifestyle changes that directly cause them.

Avoid Triggers

Prevent an episodic migraine from becoming chronic by avoiding triggers. Keep a migraine journal to track patterns and find out what causes your chronic migraine. As we said, the most common triggers are stress, food, blue lights, loud noises, lack of sleep, etc.

With journaling, you'll be able to find additional triggers specific to your chronic migraine. Just take notes every time you see a change and compare your results. Always bring your health journal when you visit a doctor in a clinic, so you  will have the necessary information for diagnosis and treatment.

Care for Medication Overuse

When you're living with chronic migraine, there's a chance to fall into vicious cycles between a migraine and a rebound headache. Medication overuse headache happens when you regularly use painkillers. Treating chronic migraine becomes impossible because you go back and forth between a migraine and a rebound headache, one causing another. To stop running in circles, you need to get additional help with migraine relief. Try alternative medications and natural treatments and find a doctor for additional medical advice.

Keep a Positive Attitude

Some days will be better than others (when throbbing pain prevents you from even getting out of bed). Use those days to research different treatments, access new information, and incorporate healthy preventive habits into your life. Remember that the most important thing in living with chronic migraine is keeping a positive spirit because negativity may only worsen your condition. Anxiety and depressions are in direct relation with chronic migraines, so it can be a good idea to talk to mental health professionals if needed.

Listen to Your Body

If your body says to stay in a dark and quiet room for the entire day, then stay there. You'll miss some social occasions, but it's better than forcing yourself to endure severe pain. If you surround yourself with supportive people, they will understand why you need to take the time for yourself and rest.

Ask for Help

Most importantly, don't be afraid to ask for help when you're experiencing acute pain. You don't have to go through the entire attack alone. Reach out to friends and family or visit a clinic. Take it step by step because progress and treatment require a lot of time and patience.

Each patient is different, and your chronic migraine is unique, so you may need a specific analysis of your condition. Only trained healthcare professionals can give you the specific advice, diagnosis, or treatment you need.

Try Different Treatments

Also, don't hesitate to try new options for treating chronic migraine. Keep a close eye on medical news because each day doctors are finding new methods to treat chronic migraines. The Migraine Stopper, for example, has helped a lot of people get migraine relief. People use this neuromodulation device both for relieving acute pain and preventing future attacks.

Some people with chronic migraine headaches take medications. Some use botox or anesthesia, while others find mindfulness-based therapy the most effective. Preventive treatments are also becoming more popular. You can't know what will relieve your chronic migraine if you don't try different options, right?

Do Chronic Migraines Ever Go Away?

While chronic migraines can't go away on their own, there are lots of things you can try to force them away. The first thing you could do is, as we said, remove the triggers of your chronic migraine. But how can you know what your trigger is? Keeping a journal can help with this.

Write down:

  • The time when each headache started and ended
  • Other chronic migraine symptoms you're experiencing
  • The intensity of each symptom and location of the pain
  • Your activities and diet
  • The measures you took and their effects (pain killers, meditation, etc.)

 After one month of keeping a detailed journal, visit a headache specialist to see what potential triggers you're exposed to. While avoiding triggers should be your main focus, try other methods simultaneously. You should:

  • Learn to manage your stress levels. Practice relaxation techniques such as deep breathing, meditation, yoga, pilates, aromatherapy, taking long walks, etc.
  • Get enough sleep. Establish a bedtime routine, so you can relax before going to bed. Read a book or take a bubble bath in the evening. Avoid blue light from screens for at least 2 hours before bed.
  • Be physically active. Try to include at least 30 minutes of light exercise in your daily schedule.
  • Eat healthy, nutritious, and balanced meals.
  • Quit smoking, if you're a smoker.
  • Limit your screen exposure. Stay off Facebook, Twitter, and other social media, for example. You'll feel more relaxed and keep blue light (that causes migraines) away from you.
  • Practice self-care. Compliment yourself, acknowledge your achievements, create a cozy and safe environment, explore your artistic side, take yourself on a night out, and overall treat yourself well.
  • Follow your prescribed treatment plan. Don't take medications that your doctor didn't order.


Calm Migrane


What Is the Best Treatment for Chronic Migraines?

Treatment won't differ depending on whether you're suffering from chronic or episodic migraines. Abortive treatment options include medication aimed towards relieving pain and nausea. Analgetics, antiemetics, sedatives, and steroids are often used for migraine relief. There are also migraine-specific medications that narrow blood vessels in the brain, which may stop chronic migraine attacks.

However, medication overuse can become a huge problem for chronic migraine patients. That's why every headache specialist usually puts the focus on preventive treatments, including the already mentioned lifestyle changes. Other preventive treatments include blood pressure meds, antidepressants, antiseizure meds, botox, and biofeedback.

Neuromodulation devices are also used for getting migraine relief. If the patient responds to neuro stimulants, a migraine attack can be gone in less than 10 minutes. The Migraine Stopper is one of those devices, so don't hesitate to contact us and try it out.

Final Thoughts

Although chronic migraines seem impossible to cure, there are lots of things you can try! You can start journaling and keeping track of your triggers, use prescribed medication, or try new treatment options. As we said, every person is different and so is your chronic migraine.  Some things may work for you, but you'll never know until you try. Maybe neuromodulation is the option that will stop your migraines for good.