• migraine self-identification;
  • headache onset;
  • migraine-associated symptoms

Background.—While treating migraine early when the headache is mild is believed to link to improved treatment outcomes, it is not clear whether patients can correctly self-identify a headache as a migraine at onset in real-world settings.

Objective.—This study aims to assess the likelihood that patients can correctly self-identify a headache as a migraine at onset, and to evaluate cues that patients use to correctly identify migraine attacks.

Methods.—Adult migraineurs were recruited from 14 headache clinics across the United States. Patients recorded their headache experiences via an electronic diary daily over a period of 30 days. On days when they experienced headaches, patients were asked to recall the types of headache they experienced at both onset and peak. Patients also identified cues for deciding whether the headache was a migraine or not. Using identification of migraine at headache peak as the criterion, we examined the sensitivity and specificity of migraine identification at onset. We employed generalized estimating equation (GEE) to evaluate factors identified at headache onset that predicted migraine identified at headache peak.

Results.—Of the 192 enrolled patients, 182 patients recorded a total of 1197 headache episodes over 30 days. At headache onset, 888 episodes were deemed by patients as migraine and 309 episodes not migraine; a majority (92%) of these early migraine identifications were confirmed at headache peak. Sensitivity and specificity of self-identification of migraine at onset were 91% and 97%, respectively. A number of factors at headache onset were predictive of a migraine identified at peak: sensitivity to light (OR = 3.1, 95% CI: 1.9–5.0), headache severity (OR = 2.0, 95% CI: 1.4–2.8), nausea symptoms (OR = 2.6, 95% CI: 1.5–4.5), and visual disturbance (OR = 2.3, 95% CI: 1.1–4.9). Patients who ruled out tension-type headache at onset were twice (OR = 2.0, 95% CI: 1.5–2.8) as likely to conclude a migraine at peak.

Conclusions.—Most migraineurs in tertiary care settings can correctly self-identify a headache as a migraine at onset. Factors such as headache severity, presence of nausea, visual disturbance, sensitivity to light, and no tension-type headache, appeared to augment the correct identification.