One thing most migraine sufferers know for certain is that a migraine is not “just a headache.” Even if your family or primary care physician recognizes that your headaches and other symptoms are indications of migraine attacks, they may not be fully equipped to treat and manage your condition effectively. Here’s how to determine when it’s time to see a migraine specialist, and what type of specialist to look for.
Signs You Need Specialist Care
If you’re experiencing two or more headaches each week that are having an impact on your life, such as affecting your ability to work, study or participate in family and social activities, a migraine specialist may be better equipped to help you find a way to manage the condition. When over the counter medications no longer help or your headaches fluctuate in terms of severity or frequency, the only way to get relief is to have a treatment regimen that is customized for you. Don’t wait until a headache lands you in the emergency room. For patients over 50 years who suffer chronic headaches on 15 days or more each month, maintaining quality of life requires specialist care.
Other Symptoms to Watch For
If your migraine attacks are limited to blinding headaches, you could be one of the more fortunate patients. That may sound like an oxymoron, but many migraineurs find their headaches accompanied by other symptoms that can’t be treated by taking a generic painkiller. These include:
- Nausea, with or without vomiting
- Weakness in parts of your body, loss of coordination or difficulty speaking or moving
- Confusion and problems comprehending what’s going on around you
- Eyesight challenges, such as blurry vision
- Dizzy spells or imbalance
- Losing consciousness
Any of these symptoms can be signs of a migraine attack, whether they are accompanied by headache pain or not. Keep in mind that migraines don’t necessarily last for a long time, and some don’t present with any pain at all.
Specialists Who Can Help
The type of specialist you need to see depends partly on the cause of your migraines. This could be allergic reactions, nerve entrapment, deviated septum, hormones, depression, or to the migraine itself. Start out by seeing a migraine doctor to get a diagnosis on the location of your pain. He or she will then be able to refer you to a specialist to treat the underlying condition, while treating the migraine results. Some types of specialists who can help migraine patients include:
- An ophthalmologist, who can determine whether your vision changes, loss of vision or light sensitivities are caused by migraine or vice versa.
- A neurologist, who is trained in conditions affecting the brain, spinal cord, muscles and nervous system. If you’re experiencing difficulties with memory, balance, speaking and thinking, a neurologist may be able to help you.
- An otolaryngologist or ear, nose and throat (ENT) specialist, who will diagnose and treat any sinus complaints that could be causing your headaches.
- An OB-GYN, who will be able to determine whether your migraine attacks are related to your menstrual cycle or a hormonal imbalance.
- A pediatrician or pediatric headache specialist, if the patient is a child.
- An allergist, who can test for immune system conditions or allergic reactions similar to the symptoms of a migraine.
- A neuromuscular dentist, who will examine the oral tissues, muscles, joints, teeth and nerves to find out if there are dental issues causing the migraine.
- A psychologist or psychiatrist, who can identify and treat any mental disorder or emotional trigger that could be driving your migraines.
- A pain management specialist, who can help you find ways to treat and manage the pain of migraines in such a way as to optimize the quality of life you experience.
The specialist you end up consulting may have unusual ways to treat your migraine attacks, and in some cases might not even recommend medication. The specialist will take a medical history from you and carry out a careful examination, as well as reviewing any notes in the referral letter from your physician. This will be followed by a set of treatment recommendations, which includes lifestyle changes and a comprehensive approach to holistic health.
Suffering from frequent and severe migraines doesn’t constitute quality of life, and while the medical community struggles to learn all the potential causes of migraine and find an overall cure, scheduling an appointment with a specialist can help you identify and treat potential reasons for your headaches. It’s also very useful to keep a migraine diary detailing when you get attacks, and what you’re eating, drinking or doing when it arrives.
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