Coping, Symptoms

Is Chronic Daily Headache Easier to Live With Than Migraine?

calendarSometimes I think coping with chronic daily headache is easier than with migraine. I have both but lately have focused on migraine in life and on this blog. Time to remedy that.

Predictability is in chronic daily headache’s favor. I wake up each morning with some degree of headache. Sometimes it will be a full-blown migraine, but often it is mild to moderate. Knowing what to expect somehow makes it easier to anticipate and enjoy the low-pain days.

The shadow of a potential strike is always with people with less frequent migraine episodes or other headache disorders. Hart, whose migraines visit an average of once a month, thinks five or six times each day that one is coming on.

I never know if my chronic daily headache is just getting a little worse or if the building pain is an imminent migraine. Not having visual auras and having hard-to-pin-down warning symptoms is part of the problem. Still, I don’t check for a migraine throughout the day. Or maybe I do and just don’t realize it.

Chronic daily headache is not as well-known as migraine and is often dismissed by doctors as attention-seeking or exaggerated claims. Friends and family can wonder the same thing. Patients themselves are perhaps the most concerned. Maybe they’ve done something wrong or haven’t been a good enough patient. The guilt and self-doubt can be overwhelming.

My original thesis for this post is that living with chronic daily headache is easier than with migraine. After letting my thoughts flow through my fingers, I’ve proven myself wrong. Rating them may be impossible. They are both life-altering and miserable. The Pollyanna in me says they both have positive aspects too. You know, all the cliches: I’m a better person for it, I live life more fully, I’m more in touch with my body.

I end this post thinking that chronic daily headache may be harder for me. Maybe I resent it more than I do migraine. Anyone with chronic daily headache and spikes of severe pain, migraine or not, do you have a “preference”?

Paula Kamen writes about chronic daily headache on the New York Times migraine blog. Leaving the Rabbit Hole, her latest post, is an eye-opener. Be sure to check out her radio interview too.

10 thoughts on “Is Chronic Daily Headache Easier to Live With Than Migraine?”

  1. For headaches upon awakening, try before bed:

    a large glass of water
    chanting OM deeply several times

    the headache is probably happening in the process of waking up, not during your sleep.

    I would prefer to get the occasional migraine only, rather than these daily headaches with spikes, thank you, especially now that sumatriptan can knock out a bad migraine.

    1. Edith, what makes you say the headache is related to waking up? Many types of headaches can come on during sleep. Since writing this post, I’ve learned that my “headaches” are always migraine in origin, it’s just that the longer I’ve had them, the more non-head pain symptoms I have that go with them.

      Take care,

  2. I have been wondering this same thing recently as I suffer from both. With CDH I get to a point where I need just a few minutes of pain free, med free time. I agree that CDH can be soul sucking. I have two young children and I think for their sake, the CDH at least allows me to be slightly functional. I am so grateful for everyones input. I know of noone personally who suffers from either CDH alone or with migraines and would love to develop some friendships via email. I am in Cincinnati if anyone knows of anyone. Laura

    Migrainepage has a terrific forum, which has helped me tremendously. I’m not on much anymore, but the supportive, caring folks on there carried me through my worst times.

    I wish you all the best.


  3. hmmm, that’s a hard one. i have migraines and occasional tension and sinus headaches. basically i have a headache of one sort or another about 90% of the time. although i do spend a fair amount of time dreading the next migraine, especially when i already have some other type of head pain which i fear is the beginning of a migraine, sometimes i have completely pain free days (or weeks!!)… and the high i get from being pain free and full of hope is priceless!

  4. I have to say I prefer the migraines. The CDH is slowly sucking my soul away…knowing that I’ll be in pain for all of the foreseeable future sucks.

  5. I would have to put my vote in for the chronic daily headaches. Like you, I know what to anticipate. I wake up 15 minutes before I have to function, grab an icepack and crawl back into bed with it on my forehead as I listen to the news with a sleep mask over my eyes (sexy I know). I assess the need for drugs, or not drugs, and then I get up and start functioning. With a migraine, I am never sure what type of migraine is going to overwhelm me – left side, cluster, kneck etc. I am completely at the whim of the migraine and its symptons – auras, nauseous, throwing up like I have food poisoning, dizzy, etc. I do have to say that the chronic daily migraines are exhausting. they take there toll. I long for the rare day when I wake up and I am free of a headache, at least for an hour or two……

  6. Hmmm. I guess I am the odd ball but I totally disagree. Yes my knock-me-out migraines suck, but I can accept that I have a bad migraine, know the day or night is ruined, take some drugs and hide in my dark room. The nausea sucks, the pain sucks. However, the daily pain of CDH is killing me. I guess I don’t identify with the predictable part because though my head hurts everyday, it flucuates a lot so I never know at what level I will be able to function. Being in pain ALL the time with no end in sight is awful. I used to only have migraines and they affected my life, but only occasionally. CDH ruins my life daily.


    Thanks for sharing that. Your last sentence made me tear up. I’m so sorry to hear it.

    Take care,

  7. What a thought provoking question! I don’t think I have CDH, yet, though my mild headaches have been getting more frequent and harder to tell from a looming migraine. Migraines have been 4 – 6 per month, pain in the head without full-blown migraine 10 – 15 days per month. Headache clinic appointment in 3 months, 3 days and counting so maybe I’ll get some answers!

    One of the things I notice is that as my headache days increase, I am doing more things that I would choose not to do for fear of a migraine. Such as, my head hurts and some of the pain is stinging in my temples, that could lead to a migraine, but I go out and take a walk anyway, where if I was sure it was a migraine coming I’d keep quiet to try and keep the migraine from developing. Last night I cooked dinner for the kids, folded laundry, straightened up, even though my head hurt. Big excitement, I know, but I felt like I was participating in my life, rather than just laying back and watching life fall down around my ears. I’ve been very discouraged by how many days I’ve been having pain. But I seem to be in a stretch of saying – “I’m going to get up and go anyway!” I don’t know how long it will last.

    – Megan
    Free my Brain!

  8. I don’t have migraines, nor do I have CDH as it is defined here- I have chronic headaches and nerve pain due to TMJD that are equally miserable and 24/7.
    I do think it is preferable when they are predictable- there is nothing worse than being at work and not knowing if you are going to get a big headache. And wondering when its starts to hurt if this is going to be big and should I go home or just stay there and hope for the best. It also gives you the illusion of control if you can predict and plan around it a bit, which helps me not to loose my mind.
    So I do think its easier to live with emotionally but I would also love to have those pain free days. So its much of a muchness.

  9. I suppose the difference is with migraine alone, you eventually know that the attack will end, whereas with CDH you go to bed every night knowing you’ll wake up with some level of pain, even if it’s not at migraine level. That can be pretty soul-destroying.

    That said, having had both, CDH is easier to deal with, for me. Yes, constant pain is awful. But it’s predictable. With CDH, I could plan my life to some degree, at least, and at least participate partially, even if at a reduced level. With migraine, I never know when it’s going to strike. I hate the unpredictability of it; I hate the thought that I can let people down at a moment’s notice (or between 5 and 60 minutes notice 😉 )

    For me, personally, the hardest thing to deal with in all this is the extra symptoms that come with the territory of a migraine attack. The vertigo, the aura, the gnawing physical anxiety, the sudden bouts of incapacitating dizziness, the brain-shocks and muscle weakness that convince me, every time, that what I’m actually having is a stroke. The pain of migraine, while excruciating, I can deal with because I know it will pass – but I’ve had migraines for 15 years now and I’ve never got used to all the added extras. I’m learning to deal with them, gradually, but still. It’s hard.

    It’s a tough question, Kerrie.

    Also, thank you for pointing me towards the NY Times migraine blog. It’s been fascinating reading.

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