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Chronic migraine

Ivan Garza, MD
Todd J Schwedt, MD, MSCI
Section Editor
Jerry W Swanson, MD, MHPE
Deputy Editor
John F Dashe, MD, PhD


Chronic daily headache is a descriptive term that encompasses several different specific headache diagnoses characterized by frequent headaches. Chronic daily headache types with individual headaches of long duration (ie, four hours or more) include chronic migraine, chronic tension-type headache, medication overuse headache, hemicrania continua, and new daily persistent headache.

This topic will discuss chronic migraine (previously known as transformed migraine). Other types of chronic daily headache are reviewed elsewhere. (See "Overview of chronic daily headache".)


The pathophysiology of migraine centers on the trigeminovascular system. This is discussed in detail separately. (See "Pathophysiology, clinical manifestations, and diagnosis of migraine in adults", section on 'Pathophysiology'.)

Although the pathophysiology of the transformation from episodic to chronic migraine is not well-understood, it is hypothesized that atypical pain processing, cortical hyperexcitability, neurogenic inflammation, and central sensitization are involved [1]. Furthermore, in patients with migraine, functional and structural alterations in the brain have been identified that correlate with longer disease duration and increased headache frequency [2,3]. However, it is not clear whether these alterations lead to chronic migraine. They may be simply markers of transformation or secondary effects from frequent migraines.


Chronic migraine affects approximately 2 percent of the world population [4]. It causes significant reductions in quality of life and is even more disabling than episodic migraine [5-8]. In addition, chronic migraine results in enormous expense to society. In the United States, the direct and indirect costs of migraine are estimated to be more than 20 billion dollars annually, and a significant proportion of this cost is attributable to chronic migraine [9].

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Literature review current through: Nov 2017. | This topic last updated: Dec 12, 2017.
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