Winnielyn Bautista knows firsthand how important it is to find a doctor who will listen, empathize, and help you manage chronic migraine. Now 34 years old, Winnielyn received her diagnosis of migraine in 2020 after dealing with migraine attacks nearly every day for more than a decade.

It took her about a year to find a combination of medications and interventions that now help decrease the severity of her migraine attacks.

Although Winnielyn worked as a full-time physical therapist assistant in the San Francisco Bay area of California, her chronic migraine made the busy, physically demanding, fast-paced job very challenging.

Winnielyn stopped working in 2021 in order to focus on managing her chronic migraine. This led her to start posting on Instagram about her condition in hopes of finding a community of other people living with the same health difficulties. She is passionate about raising awareness, sharing educational content, and connecting with others who have chronic migraine.

These days, Winnielyn experiences daily migraine symptoms, but her moderate to severe migraine attacks have decreased to six to nine times per month, depending on certain factors. Overall, the severity of her migraine has lessened significantly as well.

Here is her advice on how to work with a doctor to manage your migraine attacks.

This interview has been edited for brevity, length, and clarity.

It was extremely important for me to work with a doctor to manage my chronic migraine. And part of that is because proper education is key to living with the condition. Migraine and chronic migraine don’t discriminate. Anyone can have them. Early detection is so important for all conditions, and learning how migraine manifests can help you prevent attacks and make them more manageable when they do occur.

[Before receiving my diagnosis,] my general knowledge about migraine was that it involves a very debilitating headache with nausea. I didn’t know there was such a thing as chronic migraine until I had the worst, most traumatizing, and most severe migraine attack in May of 2020, with notable visual auras lasting for what felt like an hour. That made me feel like I got hit by a bus but somehow survived, and I was bedridden the rest of the day. This incident made me seek medical attention from my primary care doctor, who referred me to a neurologist.

It was important to me to get to a specialist in hopes of managing and preventing further progression of chronic migraine. There are a lot of misconceptions about chronic migraine and how to treat it. When people think migraine is acute, they think they can solve and treat the acute symptoms with over-the-counter (OTC) medication [such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen]. But for people with chronic migraine, it’s also important to have preventive medication on hand in order to continue with activities of daily living.

Taking OTC acute migraine medication for a prolonged period of time can add more health concerns, and it doesn’t effectively treat what is happening to the brain when someone is in the prodrome stage of their migraine [the stage that may occur hours to days before the start of head pain].

There are many different types of migraine, and having a doctor properly diagnose you is a step in the right direction. It is important to consult your healthcare professional so they can refer you to a specialist or care team who can manage migraine specifically. A doctor who specializes in chronic migraine will understand how complex chronic migraine attacks are to manage. This is usually a neurologist and, ideally, a headache specialist. A doctor who has experience treating the migraine patient population will know what combination of treatments may be more appropriate for you.

I rarely took any prescribed medications before my migraine diagnosis, and therefore, I was more sensitive to the medications I started on. Working with a doctor who could help me find the right dosage was extremely important.

It’s very important for me to be respectful and professional when communicating with all my healthcare professionals. I want them to know that I’m highly aware of my symptoms and my treatment options and that I appreciate the little time that they have during my appointment.

Being prepared ahead of time is key so that your appointment goes smoothly and all your concerns can be answered. I always bring a list of questions, and I sometimes predict the different options the doctor may provide. That way, I can be even more prepared to answer with their response.

It’s an added bonus when you can bring another person into the appointment with you for support and another set of eyes and ears. They can also help provide additional advocacy for your concerns and needs (respectfully, of course).

I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to educate yourself on migraine. You can do this by visiting reputable websites, talking with your doctor, and connecting with other people who also are diagnosed with migraine. Just be mindful that the treatment that works for someone else with migraine may not be the right one for you, although it can be something to discuss with your doctor.

See how a doctor reacts to your concerns. You should be able to be open with them and feel comfortable. This can be a good test of whether you want to keep seeing them, as you’ll be seeing them for years to come with a chronic condition.

Don’t settle for a doctor who says, “We can’t do anything more for you.” There are always options, and it means you should seek out another doctor, particularly one with experience treating migraine.

The types of questions you can ask a prospective doctor are:

  • How long have you been working with patients with migraine and chronic migraine?
  • What combination of treatment plans have you seen be the most effective for your patients with chronic migraine?
  • Can you come up with several treatment options for me?
  • What are some commonside effects I might experience on these various treatment options?
  • What are considered “red flag symptoms” when trying new medications for migraine? If I experience them, should I contact you or go straight to the emergency room?
  • When is my next follow-up appointment?
  • What is the best way to contact you if needed before my next visit?

Finding additional support in your migraine community is important. Having emotional support and gaining additional knowledge is beneficial during your healing journey.

Taking care of your mental health and managing your stress is as important as finding the right doctor and medications for you to manage your chronic migraine. My favorite ways to support my mental health are going out for walks, hiking, doing gentle stretches, and practicing dynamic balance exercises and daily meditation. Most importantly, spending time with my fur dog.

Consult with your primary care doctor if you feel your migraine attacks have significantly impacted your anxiety levels.

It’s extremely important to remember that your health struggles do not define you. Tap into other talents and passions you may have been neglecting for a while. Give yourself grace, especially on the days when your migraine attacks happen and when things do not goaccording to plan. We do our best to prepare, but sometimes, things are not within our control.

Life is unpredictable, but one thing is for sure: I’ll continue to be healing for a lifetime.

Winnielyn Bautista, 34, was diagnosed with chronic migraine in 2020. She is a licensed physical therapy assistant, chronic migraine and mental health advocate, and a member of the Global Healthy Living Foundation. A passionate user-generated content (UGC) creator @healing_w_chronicmigraine on Instagram, she uses both her personal experiences and medical knowledge to reach a broad audience with her stigma-busting messages of self-love, healing, and hope. She hopes to continue realizing her passion for content creation and marketing while also helping people regain their functionality and quality of life.