By Kathy Hubbard
What this headline should have read is, “Every ten seconds, someone in the U.S. goes to the emergency room complaining of head pain, and approximately 1.2 million visits are for acute migraine attacks.”
Migraine Research Foundation goes on to say that “everyone either knows someone who suffers from migraine, or struggles with migraine themselves.” So, what exactly is a migraine?
“Just about everyone has headaches,” MRF says. “But contrary to popular belief, migraine is not just a bad headache. It’s an extremely incapacitating collection of neurological symptoms that usually includes a severe throbbing recurring pain on one side of the head. However, in one third of migraine attacks, both sides are affected.
“Attacks last between four and 72 hours and are often accompanied by one or more of the following disabling symptoms: visual disturbances, nausea, vomiting, dizziness, extreme sensitivity to sound, light, touch and smell, and tingling or numbness in the extremities or face. Of course, everyone is different, and symptoms vary by person and sometimes by attack.”
Migraine is the sixth most disabling illness in the world. And, having known several migraine sufferers, I don’t doubt this statistic. What surprised me was that migraines are inherent. MRF states that family history of migraines accounts for 90 percent of cases.
The statistics tell us that 18 percent of women, six percent of men and 10 percent of children experience migraines. What’s interesting is that boys before puberty are more likely to have migraines than girls, but once girls start menstruating the tables turn. One in four women will have a migraine in their lifetime.
“Migraine remains a poorly understood disease that is often undiagnosed and undertreated,” MRF says. “More than half of all migraine sufferers are never diagnosed because a vast majority of migraine sufferers do not seek medical care for their pain.” If they did that would certainly change the statistic in the first sentence of this article, wouldn’t it?
Mayo Clinic says that there are four stages that a migraine might progress through. They are prodrome (early symptom), aura, headache and post-drome. You might not go through each stage each time you have a migraine, however.
Think of the prodrome as the subtle symptoms that can warn you of an upcoming migraine. They might include constipation, mood changes (from depression to euphoria), food cravings, neck stiffness, increased thirst and urination, and frequent yawning.
“Aura may occur before or during migraines. Most people experience migraines without aura. Auras are symptoms of the nervous system. They are usually visual disturbances, such as flashes of light or wavy, zigzag vision,” Mayo Clinic says.
“Sometimes auras can also be touching sensations (sensory), movement (motor) or speech (verbal) disturbances. Your muscles may get weak, or you may feel as though someone is touching you. Each of these symptoms usually begins gradually, builds up over several minutes and lasts for 20 to 60 minutes.”
Then you get the attack of the headache itself. A throbbing or pulsing pain in one or both sides of the head and the symptoms already mentioned above.
“The final phase, known as post-drome, occurs after a migraine attack. You may feel drained and washed out, while some people feel elated. For about 24 hours, you may also experience: confusion, moodiness, dizziness, weakness, sensitivity to light and sound,” Mayo explains.
If you experience headaches with this pattern, you should see your primary care provider to discuss whether or not you’re experiencing migraines. There are treatments and medications that can alleviate the symptoms while you’re having a migraine, and to help avoid them when you sense the onset of another one.
That leads us to talking about things that may trigger a migraine. It doesn’t cause the migraine, it sets it off. Migraine Research Foundation says that different things trigger migraines in different people and that the same trigger doesn’t always spark the migraine in the same person.
Triggers include changes in lifestyle (sleep, eating, exercise habits); environmental impacts (smells, lights, smoke/pollution, altitude); weather conditions (extreme fluctuations); hormone levels (more extreme fluctuations); and medication usage including those you may be taking to alleviate pain.
Your PCP can sort it all out for you. You should probably make that appointment in the next ten seconds, no?
Kathy Hubbard is a member of Bonner General Health Foundation Advisory Council. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.