This Is What Makes Chronic Migraines Different From Episodic Migraines

If you've ever been unlucky enough to suffer from a migraine, you know it's no average headache. You might feel nauseous, experience throbbing pain, or need to lie down in a dark, quiet room. And depending on how often you get them and how long they last, you may suffer from what's known as chronic migraine.

"Headache" is hardly a suitable term for migraine. According to the American Migraine Foundation, migraines are actually a disabling neurological disease with their own set of symptoms. It's different from a headache in that the pain might feel unbearable, it might be localized to one side or area of the head, it often feels throbbing or pulsing, and it could get worse with physical movement. Also, you may feel nauseous or even vomit, become sensitive to sounds, light, and smells, and miss school or work due to the pain. A migraine attack can last from hours to days and can sometimes be accompanied by visual disturbances like blind spots or blurred vision.

Migraines can run in families, and if you suffer from the disorder, they may occur with no known cause (via American Migraine Foundation). However, some triggers linked to migraines include stress, particular foods, hormonal changes in women, consuming alcohol, not enough or too much sleep, changes in weather, and brain injuries. Depending on how often you get it, you may be diagnosed with episodic or chronic migraine.

Differences between episodic and chronic migraine

If you experience a migraine less than 15 days in a month and the attacks last less than 24 hours, you may have episodic migraine (via Healthline). However, if attacks last more than 24 hours and occur for at least 15 days out of every month for three months, you may have chronic migraine, which is treated differently. Chronic migraine can also be more severe than episodic migraine and sometimes exists, along with anxiety and depression. While both episodic and chronic migraine can be treated with over-the-counter and preventative medications, chronic migraine sufferers can also receive prescription drugs that help minimize the frequency, duration, and severity of attacks, per Healthline.

2012 study published in Current Pain and Headache Reports found that people with chronic migraine had attacks that lasted between 24 and 65 hours, while attacks of those suffering from episodic migraine lasted between 12 and 38 hours (duration depending on medication for both migraine types). But if you've only had a handful of migraine attacks in your life, you probably don't need to worry about developing chronic migraine. The study also found that only 2.5% of people with episodic migraine go on to develop chronic migraine.