Lately several people I know have had migraines. One friend used to get them a lot, but now only occasionally, while the other gets them rarely and unpredictably. I used to get terrible migraines from the age of 10 to 34, but none since then, and boy am I pleased!
Apparently almost 30 million Americans suffer migraines each year with a similar prevalence in Australia. Here are some statistics about migraine in Australia from Headache Australia:
- up to three million migraine sufferers (10% – 15% pop June 2001, 19.387m, ABS)
- prevalence of migraine increases from 12 years to about 40 years and declines thereafter in both sexes
- 23% of households contain at least one migraine sufferer
- up to seven million tension-type headache sufferers (36% for men and 42% for women)
- nearly all migraine sufferers and 60% of those with tension-type headache experience reductions in social activities and work capacity
- the direct and indirect costs of migraine alone would be about $1 billion pa.
My partner used to say he was having migraines, but his descriptions sounded more like tension headaches and cluster headache. Many people describe any headache where they need to take a painkiller as a “migraine” without realising the distinctly weird aspects to a migraine-type headache. From my own experiences contrasting “ordinary” headaches with migraines, the “ordinary” headaches usually lasted up to a maximum of one day, they eventually went away with no treatment, or a lie-down or a few aspirin or paracetamol tablets. The paracetamol would even cure severe headaches with a large enough dose over 24 hours and I never felt any after effects or “hangover” from those headaches.
My migraines usually came on fairly quickly, whereas ordinary headaches sometimes built up to a peak over many hours. The migraines often had no discernible “trigger” that I could attribute them to, except the ones that came after a long period of tension- like the end of school exams or after a series of concerts I played in. As a teen and in my twenties I often got a migraine right at the end of my periods, which I used to call a “progesterone deprivation” headache, for want of any medical classification! Other people used to get awful migraines before their periods and accompanied by what’s now known as PMS- puffy tummy, maybe swollen ankles, short temper, a bit of misery/anxiety and a bigger than usual appetite, especially for sweets and chips. I’m sure a few bulimics are born through these experiences!
It’s difficult to convey the exact feeling of migraine to people who have never had one- but there is a lot more to the migraine than just a bad headache. The videos on this site present some real migraine sufferers telling their stories- people like any you might meet. My migraines were fairly classic- I would feel vaguely “dull” in the head, as though I had been in a rough pillow fight (LOL) and I would get surges and lulls in my hearing ability- some sounds would seem so clear and loud they would hurt- I would wince away from people who were probably talking quite normally. I still have a sensitive ear which I can’t let loud-voiced people sit next to when I’m in that mood, although I don’t get headaches from it. The ear seems to vibrate too much to the point where the eardrum jitters by itself and makes a little buzzing I can hear, feeling as though a mosquito is trapped in my inner ear, tickling the ear drum or hammer 7 stirrups bones.
The really classic part of my migraines were the auras- the feeling of impending something or other (not exactly “doom”) but a slightly anxious, waiting, feeling, accompanied by weird visual effects. I usually got blind spots or black spots, sometimes stationary, sometimes moving. The flashes and splotches usually had bright colours around the edges- classic psychedelic pinks, purples and greens with white light and black. At least twice I had huge blind spots that just would not shift- for one my doctor got the neurologist and ophthalmologist out on a Sunday as he thought I might be having a stroke- but I had no other symptoms. This nasty one occurred when I was rehearsing for a concert- I was meant to be accompanying two friends for their music practical exams in a few weeks. The huge blind spot made it impossible for me to see more than a third of the sheet music- I couldn’t keep moving my head or the page as I was fully occupied playing the clarinet! This attack was eventually cured after 48 hours with some ergotamine and codeine tablets.
Occasionally I would get numb spots on my body with bad migraines and rarely I would become slightly paralysed in my left leg or arm- only once, with my very last migraine, I had a little trouble walking. Some people get quite paralytic migraines- that would not be my idea of fun!
As a kid, when my migraines started, the headaches were dismissed as either malingering or as not very severe “because children don’t get bad headaches”- from mum, the neighbour or the doctor. Kids don’t have much credibility with either headaches or stomach aches- people think they don’t want to go to school and don’t take any notice. At least these days kids are believed with migraines, but I bet it isn’t as easy to convince their mothers! Because no one took my migraines seriously until I was about 16, some of them would last more than a week- I was given an aspirin or two if we had them in the house. When I was 16 my mum started getting migraines and then she realised I might not be faking it- as she suddenly got all these weird flashing lights and stuff, just as I was complaining of! It’s funny that mum’s best friend from work suffered dreadful migraines and had to self administer injections and lay low for a few days, because hers were marked by terrible nausea and vomiting- yee-ouch- I would not like to throw up while having a migraine headache. It would feel as though your brain was disintegrating!! Anyway, circumstances demanded that my migraines should be treated as vigorously as my mum’s and we were both given a supply of ergotamine tablets to take when necessary. Neither of us had the vomiting bit, although mum had nausea with hers. The tablets worked like magic for me- all the aches and flashing lights would disappear within two hours- excellent!
My migraines ceased completely and suddenly when I was 34, and just as suddenly, the depression that had been teasing me for many years came on full blast and would not go away. I asked my shrink boss to refer me to a shrink colleague and started on the road to getting it fixed- continuing journey unfortunately broken by long relapses. I’ll tell you what though- there is NO WAY I could have migraine and depression at the same time- it would be curtains. Absolutely incompatible with life as I’ve known it!
Medical researchers have discovered that people with migraine are much more likely to have a stroke (brain blood vessel bursting or blocking) than non-migraineurs – not surprising to me, considering what migraines feel like! I’m sure hypochondriaics with migraine are terrible doctor-shoppers, trying to convince someone they are having a stroke RIGHT NOW. I would have believed them if I hadn’t had migraines and emerged unscathed.
A friend of mine when I was lecturing at uni had a stroke during a migraine, while she was driving home for lunch one day. She didn’t stop, but felt really odd, the headache became very intense and she sweated like mad and found it suddenly difficult to steer, However, she went home, ate some lunch and returned to work. When she came into the near-empty lunch room everyone there realised there was something wrong with her- she was rather giggly- though normally rather a serious and straightlaced person, she had trouble talking and couldn’t find the right words to say. Someone took this very seriously and packed her off in an ambulance- she came back to work six weeks later, quite well, but with a rather different personality! I liked her a lot better after her stroke! She has never had another stroke and is living a quiet retirement.
So, any migraine sufferers in BloggoLand? Anyone like me who had them and now doesn’t?