15 Things People Who Get Migraines Want You to Know
All the well-intentioned, relevant, good advice is usually appreciated, but sometimes people just don’t realize what they’re saying to someone who suffers from migraines. When it comes to the excruciating pain and the helpless feeling that your head may split in half, most people can’t relate. In most cases, empathy trumps well-intentioned, relevant good advice.
There are 35 million Americans, a majority of which are women, who unpredictably and usually without warning, must cringe, wince and do their best to deal with the excruciating pain of a migraine. While driving. At work. After a slight turn of the head. In the midst of eating.
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Bright sunshine scorches the eyes like a blow torch. It’s a notorious jolt only migraine sufferers really know.
Unfortunately, stereotypes, myths and misconceptions happen. Many people, even some family doctors, don’t fully understand the very complex and invariably private misery it causes. The sharp, splitting pain. The nausea. The vomiting. The cramps. The depression. And more.
When the pain hits, even the most caring and well-intentioned good advice is not welcome. Instead, try some understanding.
Here are 15 things people who suffer with migraines want you to know.
1. It’s NOT just a bad headache!
Absolutely! Definitely! Doctors and researchers agree that migraines are a genetic, neurological disease characterized by flare-ups most commonly called “migraine attacks.”
This is a far cry from “just a bad headache!”
Migraine attacks are a special and specific pain. It’s confusing and jarring for some people to actually comprehend that migraine attacks CAN happen with no headache. In fact, in diagnostic, medical terms, there must be various other symptoms other than headache for the diagnosis of a migraine attack. “A migraine headache” has just become a misunderstood but common reference.
2. “It only lasts a day” is an unintentionally foolish and simplistic cliché
Migraines usually last from four to 72 hours, and sometimes longer! For days, weeks, or even months.
Unfortunately, some people do have migraines nearly daily. Chronic Migraine (CM) is all too real and it’s not uncommon that the migraines or severe, tension-type headaches last for 15 or more days per month.
3. It affects one side of the head, BUT…
Unlike most other headaches, migraine attacks usually strike on one side of the head. But they don’t always stay still. The pain can move from side to side. Most people describe the pain as throbbing or pounding.
Migraines can start any time of day, or they can wake people up in the middle of the night. They can last four hours or longer. A really bad migraine can last as long as a week. Migraines can be much more serious than just excruciating and annoying. While the migraine itself may not be life-threatening, some complications and risk factors associated with migraine can be.
4. NOT every doctor can diagnose migraines
The World Health Organization (WHO) warns that “Lack of knowledge among health-care providers is the principal clinical barrier to effective headache and migraine management.”
The WHO pointed out that non-specialist physician medical training usually includes just four hours about headaches and migraine.
5. NOT only women get migraines
One of the most misleading myths is that women are almost always migraine victims. Many – but certainly not all — migraine sufferers are women.
Another popular myth: only adults have migraines. Wrong! Migraines strike all ages. Men. Women. Girls. Boys. Unfortunately, people of all ages and genders get migraines.
In childhood, it’s pretty evenly split between girls and boys. After adolescence, 18 percent of women have migraines, and eight percent of men have migraines.
6. Aging helps
Migraines usually start in the teens or early adulthood. But some positive stats show that, as a person gets older (usually after 40), migraines become less frequent and also less painful. It is rare for migraines to start later in life, especially after 50.
Unfortunately, some women are exceptions. Women who are approaching menopause or in it already are occasionally cursed by migraines. Research shows that hormonal changes associated with menopause can trigger migraines, and some women over 40 continue to suffer with migraines as badly and frequently as they did when they were younger.
7. NOT only ‘certain types of people’ get migraines
There was an absurd but popular assumption that some people had a “migraine personality.” It was allegedly because of their feelings of insecurity, tension, inflexibility, or their conscientiousness, meticulousness, perfectionism, or their short-fuse, anger and resentment.
Research has resoundingly proven that as total bunk!
8. It’s NOT hopeless
Every day, medical science is proving that people don’t have to “just live with migraines.” It may not be easy but some things do help and something can be done.
Although there is no cure, yet, doctors better understand the disease. More and more work is being done on trigger-identification and treatments toward increasing effective migraine management.
The good news? There are more options than ever for migraine prevention.
9. Migraines are NOT all alike
According to the research, the two main types are migraine are with aura and without aura. Then there are subtypes of migraine with aura: basilar-type migraine, sporadic and familial hemiplegic migraine. There are also retinal (eye) migraines, abdominal (digestion) migraines and various complications of migraine such as chronic migraine and more.
The point is, there are plenty of different types of migraines, each with its own unique set of symptoms. Never assume that someone isn’t suffering from a migraine because their description of symptoms doesn’t fit with what you expect of a migraine.
10. Triggers are not causes
Although some foods, like alcohol, caffeinated beverages, chocolates, bananas, cheese, deli meats, baked goods, MSG (monosodium glutamate) and artificial sweeteners, get a lot of stereotypical attention and can legitimately be triggers for a migraine, ‘a trigger’ is not the same as a cause.
Triggers bring on a migraine episode. The exact cause of migraines remains unknown.
Researchers point out that many migraine sufferers rarely get migraines from food. Times and routines for eating do matter. Inconsistent mealtimes can set off migraines. Research warns that missing or delaying meals are often a key migraine trigger. A steady routine of exercising and going to bed at the same time every day can be helpful.
11. Painkillers aren’t a cure-all
It’s hit and miss and it is also frustrating for migraine sufferers, since migraines can provoke multiple symptoms and one miracle-medicine won’t necessarily sweep them away. Doctors say there are more than 100 treatments and prevention methods for migraines and, if it would be as easy as just one pill, everybody would be doing it.
Although painkillers often are often prescribed for migraines, they’re not the most effective treatment. They don’t work, for example, against triggers such as movement or noise, which may exacerbate migraine symptoms.
Research also has a warning: the more painkillers someone takes, the greater the potential for more headaches. Medication tend to be overused on “regular headaches” or rebound headaches, which are more likely to be tension headaches than migraine attacks. And using painkillers 2-3 times a week over several months may make people even more vulnerable to headaches and migraine attacks.
12. There’s no cure. Just prevention.
There are drugs that are prescribed to prevent migraines. These are usually reserved for cases like chronic migraines, where the attack lasts for more than a day, affects daily life and when medication to ease the pain doesn’t work well.
It’s quirky and unlikely but, the wrinkle-busting Botox has been involved in various migraine research studies. The verdict is interesting and encouraging. Two clinical trials concluded that Botox is safe and effective for the prevention of chronic migraines in adults. A few years ago, the FDA approved Botox for the treatment of chronic migraine headaches.
13. Without an ‘aura’ it’s not a migraine
Many people think that what sets migraines apart from “regular headaches” is the presence of an aura. However, as we explained earlier, migraines aren’t all alike.
Only 25 to 30 percent of migraine sufferers have an aura. A majority do not.
14. Asthma, heart attack, and stroke are all associated with migraines
Research has found that people who suffer with migraines are more likely to have a heart attack or stroke as well as other conditions such as asthma. There’s a definite link between migraine and stroke and other kinds of heart disease. However, migraines do not cause strokes or heart attacks.
Studies have also linked migraines and suicide. Based on a sample of Americans, suicide attempts are three times more likely in individuals with migraine than those without.
15. You can’t pick your parents
Having one or both parents with a history of migraines increases the chances of having migraines. Studies show that when one parent is a migraine sufferer then the children are 50 percent at risk, and the risk rises to 75 per cent if both parents are migraine sufferers.
The good news? Risk means that your chances are greater but it is not guaranteed that you will suffer with migraines in life.