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Living with Migraines: What to Expect

Updated on January 29, 2008

As far back as I can remember, I've had migraines. Their frequency has varied over the years, but they've never stopped. After so much time, I feel I've become somewhat of an expert on what it's like to live with migraines. Here, you'll learn my story. You'll also learn what it is like to live with migraines. If you have them, you can learn some tricks to get through this.

In case you may not know, migraines are a kind of headache. Some doctors consider the headache just one of many symptoms. You may also have sensitivity to light or sound, nausea, dizziness, and auras. While other kinds of headaches can be light and not affect your everyday life, migraines are different. They are often debilitating and can last for hours or days.

Migraine Frequency

The frequency of your migraine can vary. Some people get them once or twice each year, while others get them every day.

For me, I started getting headaches for as long as I can remember. I know I was at least in elementary school when they started. They weren't that frequent then, but got much worse when I was in high school. At that point, I would get a migraine at least once a week. That headache would last at least two days, if not three or four. Needless to say, I missed a lot of school.

I found in high school that people wouldn't necessarily believe me when I had a migraine. Most people have never had them and just can't fathom a headache having such an affect. I would miss school and people would just roll their eyes. No, I wasn't faking. I was in serious pain. This attitude followed me after I graduated.

Now, my migraines are sporadic. I can go two months (which is usually as long as I can go without having one) with no incident. Then I will have two solid weeks of daily migraines. I never know when I might get one.

Migraine Tip #1: Tell Your Friends

It's important to let your friends know about your migraines right away. Let them know how they affect you and how frequent they are. Also let them know that it can sometimes affect your plans. While this conversation may be awkward, they will be much more understanding when one of these headaches comes along.

Problems with Planning

Unfortunately, migraines can't be predicted. While you may have triggers, you still never know when they'll happen. Because of this, planning events can become stressful.

When I was in high school, my friends and I planned a trip across state lines to go to a daylong outdoor concert. We were going to go camping and everything. The morning of the trip, I woke up with a migraine. I had to call my friends to let them know I wasn't coming. I felt so bad, but there was no way I could have gone in the state that I was in.

Migraine Tip #2: Tell Your Work

Although you may feel reluctant, tell your boss about your migraines. You may want to sit them down for the conversation, or just mention it in passing. Either way, they should know about this so that they accept it when you're gone. After all, migraines are so terrible that there is really no way that you can work when you have one.

Problems at Work

In high school, I always feared life after graduation. With how frequent my migraines were, how could I possibly work a full time job? Once I got a job like that, I was so afraid of losing it that I didn't tell my boss. After a handful of sick days, she was curious what the problem was. I told her and she said she wished I told her from the beginning. I wish I had too.

Now I'm self employed. I like this better because, if I have a headache in the morning, I can just work at night. I can add a day to the completion date I tell my clients just in case something happens. This is a much better way to work for me.

Migraine Tip #3: Find Your Trigger

It can be hard to figure out your migraine trigger. You will start to notice a trend, though. You may want to start a migraine journal. Every time you get a migraine, write down what you ate, did, and what the weather was like. Then, you can start to see a trend.

Migraine Triggers

Migraines are usually triggered by something. This could really be anything and it varies from person to person. There are some common triggers, though. Here's a few:

  • Smoke
  • Menstrual period
  • Aged cheese
  • Lack of water
  • Missing a meal
  • Lack of sleep
  • Bright light
  • High humidity in weather

Just after high school, I decided to quit caffeine. My reasons weren't because of migraines. I don't do drugs and I thought I'd add this one to the list of drugs I don't do. I quickly noticed that my migraines weren't happening as often. They didn't last nearly as long, either. Instead of a three day long headache, they now lasted only one. While it may not have been a trigger, caffeine definitely made my migraines worse.

Besides caffeine, I could never find anything that triggered my migraines. They do sometimes happen if I haven't slept well enough or if I skip a meal, but that didn't seem like a trigger. Only very recently, I found out what it was. Headaches trigger my migraines. That may seem odd, but it's true. I get a lot of headaches that aren't migraines. I have a bad neck, which gives me a headache. Then, if the headache lasts long enough, it will turn into a migraine. May seem weird, but it's true.

Migraine Tip #4: Find A Way to Get Rid of Your Migraine

Try my Station idea. I don't mind! The important thing is to find a way that you can live with your migraines. Try everything. While you may not get rid of your migraine, you can at least deal with it better or make it go away faster. Also, try Tiger Balm or other similar muscle rubs. Even Head On works to make you feel better, although their commercials are annoying.

What to Do When You Have One

It took me a long time to formulate a way to feel better from a migraine. Even now, it doesn't always work. When I was young, I liked to wet a rag in cold water and then put it on my forehead as I slept. This made the pain lessen and helped me sleep. The problem is that it would get warm and useless after ten or fifteen minutes. I used to yell for my mom so she could get the rag cold and bring it back. Obviously, that isn't very efficient.

Since then, I have made what I call a "Cold Rag Station" or "Station" for short. I fill up a big bowl full of ice. I then add water just up to the top of the ice. I keep this next to the bed so I can get my rag cold without getting up. The ice water lasts a few hours, so this is a much better option. Just remember to refill your ice trays each time you make your Station!

I envy people who can take pain pills and have their migraine disappear. This just doesn't work for me. The only medicine that has ever worked is Imitrex. It is a prescription drug for migraines. I take it with ibuprofen and it works perfectly. My migraine is usually gone in a half hour. Unfortunately, I don't have health insurance anymore. That would make it cost around $300 for nine pills (instead of around $20 to $30 for those same nine pills. Yes, it's expensive.) I don't take it anymore, but you might want to try it.

The Future

Some people grow out of their headaches. My grandma used to have a similar problem and hers went away in her early twenties. I am already 24 with no end in sight. I hope that they will eventually go away, but they may not. It's important to know that you may live with this until the end.

The best way to deal with your migraines is to figure out what works for you. You may have a completely different experience than me, but this is a good example of what a life with migraines is like. If you don't get migraines, you may now realize how serious they can actually be.


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    • profile image

      Kane 5 years ago

      Im 15 and ive also had to deal with migraines since i could remember. I also take Imitrex as well as Inderal. Since most of my migraines are stress oriented, or so i beleive, this helps immensely. i hope this helps anyone out there who is involved with sports and other activities. Also, frequnecies of migraines may.also increase with concussions as i have had 3 before the age of 7. thank for the article becuase i no longer feel like the only person who has to deal with this condition!

    • gail641 profile image

      Gail Louise Stevenson 6 years ago from Mason City

      I had migraines when I was in grade school, and they use to make me sick. I'd throw up a lot. My mouth would go numb, and so would my arms and legs. It was real hard to talk when your mouth goes numb. The pain was bad, too and the next day if I moved suddenly I could feel the pain in my head. The migraines aren't as bad now. I'm a lot older and they got better. My mother had them, too. Great article. Sometimes I feel like my arm is going numb, but then I don't get the headache or anything. I'm sure that stress could trigger migraines, too.

    • profile image

      cmvand 6 years ago

      for my whole adult life i have been treated for sinus infections...even had sinus surgery. and allergy shots. Now it appears it may have been migraines all along. Just took 60mg prednisone...wish me luck

    • Pure Chiropractic profile image

      Pure Chiropractic 7 years ago from Nanaimo

      Love your hub. I've linked to in in one of mine, in fact. Thanks so much!

    • RamonB profile image

      RamonB 7 years ago

      I'm slightly different from you in that I suffer from migrainous disequilibrium - I get all the symptoms of migraine plus severe dizziness and visual disturbances.

      I agree 100% that you need to find a way to deal with it, it would be so easy just to sit and get depressed abou tthe condition.

    • profile image

      Kyle Ouellette 8 years ago

      Awesome article. I'm going to ask my doctor for some Imitrex asap!

    • Deb Smith profile image

      Deb Smith 8 years ago from Northern California

      Nice article. I can relate - I've been living with migraines for more than 15 years. One picky comment: Migraines are not headaches. A headache is one of the symptoms of migraine disease: I think it's important to clarify this since the misconception by many that migraines are just headaches leads to the lack of understanding of how truly debilitating this condition can be.

    • tbartle profile image

      tbartle 10 years ago from Missoula, Montana

      Yeah, mine have been happening on the weekend, too. It's like your body knows when to ruin everything. ;)

      Thanks Shawn!

    • profile image

      Shawn of the Dead 10 years ago

      Telling work and friens is a great idea! I deff. don't get them as much as you, but I did let work and friends know about them. Now they all understand when I can't come to work or hang out every once and awhile.

      *lately, when I do get them, they generally happen on a friday.....I don't work weekends...damn!

    • tbartle profile image

      tbartle 10 years ago from Missoula, Montana

      I got the idea for this article today because I had another one of my migraines. It started before bed last night and ended around 4PM today. Man, it was terrible.