It can be frustrating enough just living with a headache condition or migraine, but it can be compounded by interactions with medical professionals. Many have to endure misdiagnoses of their condition or outright denial of its seriousness by general practitioners. Inconsistent or ineffective treatment recommendations further increase the disenchantment felt by many patients. However, there are other options; namely, certified headache specialists. These are individuals who have built their professional careers helping properly diagnose and treat these types of conditions while simultaneously offering greater understanding of the patient experience. They keep current on the latest migraine and headache treatments and research, and they back it up with tangible experience in the field. This results in a more informed, and often empathetic, approach to the treatment of headache disorders.
What makes a qualified headache specialist?
One of the best markers of a specialist in the field is the headache medicine certification offered by the United Council for Neurologic Subspecialties (UCNS). Its scope encompasses “the diseases or categories of disease causing central and peripheral disturbance of structures or functions causing head and face pain,” according to its website.However, it is important to note that a doctor does not need to be UCNS-certified in order to render quality care for patients with headache disorders; the certification itself was only introduced into the field in 2006. In addition, many are general physicians providing all levels of care but who possess an additional specialty in the area of neurology, neurosurgery, otolaryngology, or psychiatry, to name a few. The point is that this certification is not the only designation that qualifies a medical professional, but it is the easiest and most accurate way to identify a majority of them.
Where are these specialists located?
Although there is a severe shortage when compared with the number of individuals who actually have one of these conditions, headache specialists are located in just about every state in the U.S. In total, there are over 500 UCNS-certified professionals, and it is promising to see that this data continues to rise—in fact, there were just over 400 who held the certification as of two years ago. Many states also have academic headache centers, which focus exclusively on treatment, research and training within the specialty.
Not surprisingly, the most densely populated states (New York, Florida, California, etc.) have the highest amount of specialists. Only five states—Alaska, Montana, New Mexico, North Dakota, and Wyoming—fail to have a single designated professional with the designation. Check out the map below for a full state-by-state breakdown.
|State||UCNS-certified specialists||State||UCNS-certified specialists|
|District of Columbia||2||Massachusetts||22|
How can I contact one of these specialists in my area?
There are numerous “physician finder” tools available to locate UCNS-certified specialist. You can always access the list of UCNS “diplomates” (as they refer to everyone who holds an active certification) and do your own online research to obtain their contact information. If you want to explore a broader search of both certified and non-certified headache professionals, the National Headache Foundation has an online directory that allows you to filter results by name, location, or certification. Either way, you can rest assured that help is available!