Migraine Life In Depth: What You Need to Know!
Do you deal with migraines all the time? Have you ever experienced a migraine or thought you have at least once? Are you close to someone who deals with chronic migraines and are unsure of what to do for them? If you said ‘yes’ to one or more of these questions then this is the article for you. Though we'll be going pretty in depth in this article, just know that there's plenty to talk about in regards to migraines. I went in depth with only the major topics I felt were most important.
Now before you read, you should know that I am NOT a doctor or specialist of any kind. I’m just a guy who’s dealt with chronic migraines for about 20 or so years, so I’ve learned a few things that I believe more people should be aware of when it comes to migraine headaches. Though I’ll be presenting facts in this piece, I’ll also be speaking from personal experience and not all experiences are the same. At the end of the day, if you deal with chronic migraines it’s best to see a headache specialist or neurologist.
Also, this piece is not intended to exclude anyone or make anyone feel bad just because they don't have migraines. This is literally for helping you gain perspective and knowledge that can be shared with the people who need it. I'm sure just about everyone can find something of value here today, and anyone can apply it.
Here's How It Is
The infamous migraine is one of the most painful and detrimental illnesses that plagues many people. So many people experience, or have experienced, the horror of a migraine that can only be described as demonic in nature. In fact, according to the AmericanMigraineFoundation.org about 12% of people in the U.S. are chronic sufferers. Also, migraine is the third most prevalent disease in the world, along with being considered the 6th most disabling.
If you’ve never had a migraine then consider yourself blessed. Now I know that there are plenty of other terrible illnesses and disorders that people suffer through, but anyone that deals with consistent migraines will find it very challenging to maintain even a simple lifestyle. About 91% of people who have migraines miss work because they can't function properly...I can attest to this all to well.
Even though many people struggle with chronic migraine (CM), there tends to be a lot of mystery or disinformation that can lead to one struggling with CM to not take the proper action(s) needed. And of course, the ones who try to tell you what to do who don’t know what they’re talking about don’t help either. As a fellow migraine sufferer myself, I have been able to gain information and useful tips that can lead anyone with CM to go into right direction as far as treatment. I believe this info will also help people who are very close to someone who has CM and doesn’t know what to do or what to look out for.
Maybe you’re a teacher with a student that seems to have something wrong with him or her; maybe your girlfriend deals with them constantly but hasn’t sought treatment yet and you’re not sure what to do when she gets an attack when she's with you; maybe you’re suspicious that a friend of yours is using CM as an excuse to skip out on plans. I’ve been through a lot, and it took me too long to learn certain things. So today, I’m going to use this information, my experience, and pain to best help anyone’s process in seeking comfort and treatment be expedited. Let’s get a better understanding of migraines and clear up some misunderstandings with six things you should know about migraines.
1). It's Not JUST Any Headache
Knowing The Difference
Okay, so I’m very well aware that they’re called migraine “headaches”, but believe me when I say that they’re so much more than that. There are too many symptoms associated with a migraine for it to be JUST a headache. According to MigrainBuddy.com, there are four main stages of a migraine. Migraine Buddy states that these four stages are, “prodrome, aura, migraine attack, and postdrome”. You can check out the website for greater details on the stages so that you can know what to look out for.
Upon first getting the actual migraine, the average person experiences one of the most notable symptoms as an aura—in the second stage—in their line of vision and/or peripheral vision. This aura consists of arbitrary colors and swirls. This usually happens before the actual headache itself. I personally can’t recall seeing auras consistently before my attacks though. I may have once or twice. The stages aren’t the exact same for every person, but the stage that everyone can agree on experiencing is the Migraine Stage itself—the absolute least favorite part!
In the migraine stage itself, most experience anything from nausea/vomiting, sore neck and shoulders, weakness, extreme pain (usually on one side of the head more than the other) that’ll make you feel a sense of impending DOOM (anxiety), irritability, insomnia, sensitivity to light, sound, smell, taste, and movement itself, fever-like sensations and more. These symptoms can last for hours…or even days, and I can say that from personal experience because I had a migraine last almost three days with very few and short breaks in between (due to medication). These symptoms make it a big deal to make their presence known to the one suffering, which leads to my next point.
2). You'd Know If You've Had One
Try To Remember
Despite the fact that I went into just enough detail for anyone to at least be able to empathize with the torture from a migraine, many people still question if whether or not they’ve experienced one themselves. Unless you were very young at the time, I find it hard to believe that most people can forget about a migraine experience. Most people who drink tend to remember their worst hangovers. So, let me help with a little example.
Have you ever had a really bad hangover after a fun and somewhat less than memorable night of drinking? Do you remember how bad it was? The aching, the throbbing/stabbing pain in your head and neck, the nausea, the sensitivity to light and sound and smell, do you remember that? Did you have a hard time moving or keeping your eyes open? If you’ve said “yes” to one or more of these questions, then you have a pretty good idea of what a migraine is like.
Only difference is, migraines can be seemingly random and not only harder to get rid of, but they’re often not simply a side effect after a night of drinking, at least not in the sense of someone diagnosed with CM. There are also many triggers for people with migraines (which I’ll go over in a bit). What separates migraines from hangovers though is the pain of the headache part itself, which I think deserves to be talked about on its own.
3). The Sensation and Pain
Anyone who’s suffered a migraine more than once will have a hard time believing anyone else who says they’ve had one and it wasn’t "that bad". Oh please! Though the sensation I’m about to talk about stems from my personal experience, I’m sure many, if not all migraine sufferers, can relate.
As far as the pain is concerned, I usually experience an extreme sharp pain—almost like my skull is cracking—along the right side of my head. It usually starts from the occipital region (lower back of the head) to my forehead. The pain will eventually trickle off and radiate to my ears, face, the other side of head, teeth and gums, neck and shoulders.
I find it very hard to get comfortable or even wear clothing when I'm in this phase. My body is left feeling extremely weak and shaky. Also, the pain tends to send me into a little bit of anxious state when it’s REALLY bad, leading me to think that the pain will never end and I’m stuck with this torture for good! Dramatic I know, but very true. The eyes will start to feel as though they’re getting extremely hot, like all the moisture is getting sucked out by hot air. Keeping them open for just a second too long results in agony.
The reasoning for all the pain is, in essence, pretty simple. I will describe why and how the pain feels like it does. I’m sure a lot of people who have migraines aren’t really sure what’s going on inside your body at the time. The pain feels a lot different than what you may think is actually going on.
4). What's Actually Going On
Check This Out
As I mentioned earlier, I wouldn’t be surprised if most migraine sufferers didn’t actually know how the pain is being caused. I probably say that because for the longest time I thought my brain itself was experiencing the pain, but I was wrong. Knowing how the pain is caused is very valuable to know because that gets you another step closer to relieving or preventing symptoms.
Remember the skull-cracking pain I mentioned above? Well do you want to know how that pain is caused? Many of you may know this, but for those who don’t I think you’ll be surprised at how simple the answer is. During a migraine, the blood vessels in the scalp and cranium become heavily dilated and irritable. This causes the surrounding nerves to be agitated. But that’s just a little side effect of what's really going on.
According to Mayo Clinic’s breakdown on migraines on their website here, migraines are usually caused by changes with the brain stem and a major pain neuro-pathway called the trigeminal nerve. Typically, imbalances in hormonal activity play a huge role. Serotonin levels drop during a migraine attack, which can possibly “cause your trigeminal nerve to release substances called neuropeptides, which travel to your brain's outer covering (meninges). The result is migraine pain. Other neurotransmitters play a role in the pain of migraine, including calcitonin gene- related peptide (CGRP)” per Mayo Clinic.
This is something that I’ve personally known for a little while myself, but please feel free to click the link to read more information for yourself—stay in the know! The decrease in serotonin levels could explain why women are far more likely to get migraines than men, given the frequency of hormonal changes the average woman experiences. But believe it or not ladies, I know your pain all too well, although my CMs are most likely genetic—which I’ll get to causes in just a bit.
Because of fluctuating hormone levels in the body, it’s not hard to imagine the body not being able to perform very well for a while—usually being that nerves in the body become overactive. If it’s one kind of pain that I think every human can agree on, it’s direct nerve pain, and with a migraine you get just that—topped off with a few extra side-effects for good measure
Some Causes May Be Surprising
Now probably one of the most important parts of this whole piece is what causes a migraine and what one can do about it. I’m going to be breaking down every major kind of trigger for a migraine attack and what to best do about it. At the end of the day, I implore you to see a physician for any final opinions, for this information is to help give you an idea of what you’re dealing with and to point you in the right direction. Alright, let’s get into it.
Poor Diet: It’s no secret that processed foods and additives are just not good for you. Who knows what kinds of reactions you’ll end up developing, and not even realize it. It’s easy for us to dismiss the quality of our diets, especially because we’ve all thought it, “if it tastes good, then it is good”. Nope! Foods that have too much unhealthy fats, salts, and sugars, foods that you may have an allergic reaction or sensitivity to are ones you should either completely cut out or at least cut back on dramatically.
What to do: Every time you get a migraine, think of any foods you ate that day of or the day before. Write them down; time, what it was, and how much. If you notice a consistent pattern, then cut those foods out of your diet and see what happens. Two food triggers for me are pretzels and licorice. Just the smell can bring on an attack for me. Since I’ve updated my diet I’ve noticed a decrease in CM attacks day to day.
Dehydration: This one is simple to explain and fix. You don’t have enough H2O in your body. I struggled with this myself. Often, it’s hard to even notice when you’re dehydrated at first, but that doesn't mean you body won't.
What to do: Not getting enough water? Then drink more water…surprise! But not only that, try to drink room temperature water throughout the day. It doesn’t have to be a gallon, but make sure you at least have a full glass right before every meal and/or during, and also as soon as you wake up and go to bed.
Also, plenty of foods like cucumbers, watermelon, iceberg lettuce, kiwis, lemons, and more have the ability to not only hydrate you, but recharge your electrolytes. Do this enough, and you can prevent plenty of unwanted migraine company. Oh, and if you choose to drink alcohol, then drink as much, better more, water by the end of your drinking—I know I know, it’s not much fun that way. But a major reason why that hangover you get is so painful is because of the dehydration, which makes hangovers likened to migraines.
Stress: I think enough of us have learned the effects stress can have on us. Whether it’s work, school, family, friends, relationships, or just the world itself, stress has no shortage of avenues to reach destination YOU.
What to do: This one is tough, but you need to reduce the stress in your life. Some stress is good, but not when it’s making you sick and tired. Stress alone can inadvertently lead you to succumb to both of the symptoms mentioned above as well. So again, adopt a cleaner diet and more water. Try to get active as well. You don't have to pump major iron at the gym, though it’ll help.
Try light walks or jogging, yoga, home workouts, reading, a hobby, heck even a pet might help—just make sure it ends up well trained. Ever since I started working out regularly I’ve found a great outlet for stress, along with my music and reading. Also, learn to think with perspective. Don’t overreact to things you can’t control. Just breathe or slowly, and let it go. It’s tough at first but it’s a great trait to have in one’s arsenal.
**GENETICS**: As far as chronic migraines are concerned, this is probably the most important cause. One’s susceptibility to a migraine or CM can be explained through genetics. This one applies to me the most. I’ve been officially diagnosed with CM and the only conclusion that several doctors I’ve seen have come to is that mine are genetic, which makes sense because my mom and dad both suffered with them tremendously.
I’m going to include hormone changes in women due to menstrual relation in here too since more women are predisposed to having migraines, simply because of the hormonal fluctuations that are intrinsic to, well, women! Not all women will get migraines though.
What to do: See a physician. I recommend a specialist to be precise. The specialists will have the most insight as to what tests, medications, diagnoses, referrals, and treatments would be most beneficial. That’s what I did, though it took some trial and error to get me on a medication that actually worked. Don’t wait!
Other: Other causes that I didn’t get into that you may want to consider are change in weather/environment, too much activity, over stimulus of the senses (too much light, sound, or even smell), cigarettes, or other medications you’re taking. Be careful in your day to day life if you’re worried about getting a migraine. Even if you haven’t gotten a migraine your whole life it’d still be wise to consider the solutions mentioned above, simply for overall health and well-being.
6). Be Supportive
Here's What You Can Do
This section is dedicated to the ones who are close to someone who has CM. Just like with many ailments, one’s lifestyle can become stifled and made difficult, so the support and understanding of the ones around them helps a lot. If you don’t suffer from CM then that’s a wonderful thing, it’s not like we want you to experience what we do, but there’s a few things you should probably keep in mind for future reference.
1). Most often, when someone you know is having a migraine, you may not be able to be of much help to them at the time. Most of us know how to deal with a migraine when we’re out and about, and that usually starts with preventing it in the first place. Don’t feel bad if you find that you are unable to do anything if you’re with a loved one that’s having an attack. Just let them take the lead, and be patient.
The very fact that they know that you’ll be there for them the best way you can is very comforting. I mainly mention this because there have been plenty of times where I’m out with friends or with coworkers and I get an attack. The first thing everyone tries to do is tell me how to deal with the attack, when really they don’t know my triggers or medical history. The problem comes in when I tell them that what they’re suggesting isn’t going to work and they get offended, like I'm trying to make them look stupid or as if I want to suffer or something.
Listen, it’s okay to want to help, but the best place to start is asking questions. You don’t have to take on the burden yourself, but if you want to learn more about someone’s migraines then simply ask questions and learn what you can. Don’t take it to heart when one of us says “no, that’s not the reason why I’m having an attack” or “I already tried that, that’s not the issue”. We don’t say that stuff to make you feel bad, it’s just that we tend to know what most of our triggers are and aren’t, so don’t try to force your advice on someone if you haven’t taken the little effort it takes to learn a few things—that applies to everyone.
Example: When one of my exes had really bad cramps from her monthly visitor, I did everything I could to make sure she knew I would help her to best of my abilities—and that started with “what can I do?” or “what do you normally do for this?” or “let me know if you need anything”. I did what I could, then I gave her space because it wasn’t about me feeling like I’m helpful as much as me wanting to make sure she was as comfortable as possible. If there’s nothing you can do in the end then there’s nothing you can do but don’t beat yourself up, just try to be supportive as best as possible. It really helps.
2). Please don’t compare a time you had a headache once or twice to one’s CM. The only thing that’s going to is make them feel a little envious, envious that the worst you’ve experienced was a just headache. Now, I know regular headaches can be pretty bad too, but the way I see it, comparing a headache you had a long time ago to someone's CM is like comparing a stubbed toe to a broken leg.
I know your heart may be in the right place by trying to sympathize with us, but we don’t need sympathy, we just need a little support. I know I do. I’m happy for you if you’ve never experienced migraines, maybe you’re dealing with something terrible that I can’t understand. As I mentioned before, CM is the only absolute worst thing to have, but it’s up there.
Don’t worry about trying so hard to relate if you can’t. If you’re talking to someone with lung cancer, who needs a machine to breathe, are going complain about the time you were upset because you went out of breath because you couldn’t run a mile under seven minutes? Just the ability to be able to walk a mile without a breathing machine would be a dream to the person you’re talking to. Like I said, the pain that comes with migraines is enough to crush one’s spirit at times, only those who’ve suffered with CM can truly relate to our plight—as is with any other group of people who deal with certain issues in life.
3). For all of you out there that knows somebody that has CM, and you’ve never dealt with such a curse personally I want you to really consider what I’m about to tell you. If you were to take one thing away from this entire piece it’s this: people with CM tend to become depressed and/or anxious people over time—never knowing when the next migraine attack will hit them. Not ALL, but it's more common than you may think.
Not knowing, coupled with not having the proper treatment, can lead to a very frustrating lifestyle. My friends, understand that your migraine carrying loved one will cancel plans with you. Know that plans may change or be cut short because of an unforeseen attack. Be aware that you may go a while without seeing that loved one, or if you do, you’ll see a different side of them that may be hard to deal with. Know that even when they seek treatment, they’ll still most likely have a difficult time, what with trying to find the right medications with the least amount of side-effects.
I encourage you to not take it personal when plans get canceled or changed on you. I’ve had such bad CM that my friends went from being worried about me, to kind of frustrated with me, not for me, and that’s just not fair. It’s extremely difficult to do just about anything once a migraine sets in. Please try to understand that.
I can say that aside from being uncomfortable and in agony while with company, I try not to hang out with friends when I’m getting sick because I don’t want to hold my friends back from doing what they want to. I’d much, much rather miss out on something and have my friends enjoy it without me than all of us missing out just because of my migraines.
Keeping up at the work place was tough for me for a long time as well. I was blessed with my last job because not only have I put so much time into that job, I was one of the best workers. One of the reasons why I worked so hard for them too was because they understood my issues and worked with me on it. You have no idea how much appreciation I felt from that because, like I stated earlier, people will get frustrated with me, saying that it’s just an “excuse”. That hurts to hear...
As long I have people in life willing to understand and work with me, I will always do my best for them. Can I assume that many of you other migraine sufferers feel the same? Having patient people in your life who genuinely care is priceless, and one should never lose sight of that; that’s the kind of supportive people migraine suffers—and really anybody—need in their lives.
In The End...
I’m not only grateful for God, friends and family that have supported me, but for the increasing strides in medicine. Though we may not have a cure for migraines, we’ve become closer to helping people live better lives despite the struggles. For all of you out there that suffer with migraines and need answers, I sure hope that you’re able to take at least something away from this, even though there’s still so much more I can talk about. You’re not alone in this. There are people out there just waiting to help you. And believe it or not, you can live a healthy and happy life with CM. I can say that because that life is becoming more real for me every day, but I have to put in the work myself as well. Stay proactive and stay positive. Much love, and keep fighting,