What is chronic migraine?

Chronic migraine is defined as having at least 15 headache days a month, with at least 8 days of having headaches with migraine features, for more than 3 months. Chronic headache begins as less frequent headache episodes that gradually change into a more frequent headache pattern.

Who gets chronic migraine?

Chronic migraine affects between 3 and 5 percent of people in the United States. Approximately 3 percent of people who have episodic migraine transform to chronic migraine each year.

What causes chronic migraine?

Chronic migraine develops over time due to a number of factors:

  • The number of episodic headaches steadily increases over time.
  • Medications once used to treat episodes of headache become overused in an attempt to keep the increased number of headaches under control. Barbiturate-containing medications (amobarbital [Amytal®], butabarbital [Butisol®]) and narcotics (opioids/opiates) are the reported prescription drugs that lead to developing chronic headache. The most common drugs responsible for medication overuse headaches are the over-the-counter medications, such as Excedrin® and generic equivalents, the non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications, and acetaminophen (Tylenol®).

Other factors associated with chronic migraine include:

  • Obesity
  • Snoring
  • Mood disorders, especially anxiety and depression
  • Ongoing disrupted sleep pattern
  • Excessive caffeine intake
  • History of severe emotional (stressful life events) or physical trauma

What are the symptoms of chronic migraine?

Symptoms of episodic migraine and chronic migraine are the same. The difference is simply the increase in frequency of the number of headaches. Typical migraine symptoms include:

  • Head pain that is moderate to severe in intensity, worsened by physical activity/movement
  • Pain on one or both sides of the head
  • Throbbing pain or pressure-like pain
  • Sensitivity to light, sound, smells
  • Nausea/vomiting
  • Dizziness

Signs an episodic migraine is transforming to a chronic migraine include:

  • Having a growing number of migraine attacks
  • Taking more medication because of the growing number of attacks

Cleveland Clinic is a non-profit academic medical center. Advertising on our site helps support our mission. We do not endorse non-Cleveland Clinic products or services. Policy