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Migraine vs. Chronic Migraine: What Are the Differences?

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  • Episodic vs. chronic migraines

    Episodic vs. chronic migraines

    Have you ever experienced a migraine headache? Depending on how often you experience symptoms, you may be having episodic migraines (EM) or chronic migraines (CM).

    If you go weeks or months between migraine attacks, you may have EM. If you have migraine symptoms on 15 days or more per month, and within at least three months, you may have CM, advises the Mayo Clinic. Most people who experience migraine headaches never develop CM.

  • Characteristics of episodic migraines

    Characteristics of episodic migraines

    Your doctor may diagnose you with EM if you have:

    • at least five migraine attacks in your lifetime
    • headaches that affect you on less than 15 days each month
    • headaches that typically last less than 24 hours


    There’s no single test for migraines. To diagnose EM, your doctor will ask about your symptoms. Migraine headaches are often unilateral and described as a pulsing or throbbing sensation. The headache is often accompanied by nausea, vomiting, light sensitivity, or sound sensitivity.

    Common triggers for EM include stress, menstruation, and weather changes among others. Your doctor will also take steps to rule out other possible causes. For example, you might be experiencing headaches as a side effect of medications or a symptom of an eye disorder or a brain injury. 

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  • Characteristics of chronic migraines

    Characteristics of chronic migraines

    If you’re experiencing migraine symptoms for more than 4 hours at a time and more than 15 days per month, your doctor may diagnose you with CM. People with CM have more headache days per month than people with EM. They also experience longer headaches on average.

    In a study in Current Pain and Headache Reports, researchers found that people with CM experience headaches that last an average of 65.1 hours without treatment and 24.1 hours with treatment.

    In comparison, people with EM have headaches that last an average of 38.8 hours without treatment and 12.8 hours with treatment.

  • How common are the two conditions?

    How common are the two conditions?

    EM headaches are more common than CM. In the journal Headache, scientists report that about 17 percent of American women and close to 6 percent of American men experience migraines. They found that CM headaches affect slightly more than 1 percent of American women and less than 0.5 percent of American men.

    Women in their 40s appear most likely to experience CM.

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  • Treatments

    Treatments

    To treat EM headaches, your doctor may recommend over-the-counter medications. Depending on the frequency and severity of your symptoms, they may also prescribe prescription medications.

    Your doctor may also recommend over-the-counter or prescription medications to treat symptoms of CM. They may also try to prevent CM symptoms by prescribing preventive medicines.

    Certain cardiovascular drugs, antidepressants, antiseizure drugs, onabotulinumtoxinA (Botox), or pain relievers may help reduce the frequency, length, or severity of your headaches.

  • Will episodic migraines become chronic?

    Will episodic migraines become chronic?

    Most people who experience EM never develop CM. According to researchers in Current Pain and Headache Reports, only 2.5 percent of people with EM progress to having CM every year. It’s also possible to go from having CM to EM, if your symptoms improve.

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  • The individual cost

    The individual cost

    Migraines are more than just painful. They can also interfere with your ability to participate in daily activities.

    If you have CM, you will likely miss more work and time with your loved ones than you would with EM.

    Research reported in Headache also suggests that CM is more expensive to treat. It found that people with CM spend an average of $7,750 per year to treat their condition. People with EM spend an average of $1,757 per year.

  • Take time to talk to your doctor

    Take time to talk to your doctor

    Over time, migraines can take a toll on your work, income, and even personal relationships. If you’re experiencing headaches on a regular basis, talk to your doctor.

    You should also make an appointment if you’ve already been diagnosed with migraines and you notice your symptoms are becoming more severe or frequent. 

    They can help you identify the cause of your symptoms. They can also help you find the best treatment options.

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References:

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