The devastating impact migraines can have on people

The devastating impact migraines can have on people

Our understanding of migraines being just a pain or a headache is inaccurate. It has huge repercussions, both emotionally and socially and is often associated with issues such as anxiety and depression. Pic: iStock

A CONSULTANT neurologist revealed how severe migraines had forced a number of his patients to spend every day “lying in a dark room.” 

Dr Seán O’Sullivan from the Bon Secours Hospital told of how many Cork migraine sufferers had endured years of pain before accessing help for the heartbreaking condition.

“People have lost jobs or simply not applied for them,” Dr O’Sullivan said. 

“Others who would be very qualified and competent have limited themselves. They end up having to spend every day lying down in a dark room which can have a huge impact.” 

He said that life is often put on hold for migraine sufferers. “I have a lot of patients that I see on a regular basis whose lives have been in limbo-in terms of career and family progression. They are not engaging and maximising their potential because of the migraines."

He said that invisible illnesses like migraines can often end up being misunderstood.

“One of the issues around migraines is that the person looks well to an outsider,” he said. “They don't look sick and sometimes might not be getting the support they require. Others might treat them dismissively, asking "why won't you get out of bed or go to work?"

This could be employers, family members or even friends who don't fully understand the severity. The problem is they don't look sick.

Sometimes you might have nausea or pallor but most times the person can look normal during the attack, which adds to the problem.“ Nonetheless, he offered hope for victims of the condition.

“This is a very exciting time for people with migraines. There are a lot of new treatments becoming available recently including occipital nerve block injections, botulinum toxin injections and a whole new family of drugs based around CGRP targets. Hopefully, the sense of nihilism that people feel and the years of bad experiences can turn into hope."

"The message is that just because someone might have suffered with migraines for years doesn’t mean that things can’t change. There are more treatments available now than ever before.” He emphasised the devastating effects such an illness can have, both on a social and emotional level.

“This is something we are becoming increasingly aware of in the last 20 years. Our understanding of migraines being just a pain or a headache is inaccurate. It has huge repercussions, both emotionally and socially and is often associated with issues such as anxiety and depression. It can result in issues with social and occupational functioning."

"People suffering with migraine often describe feeling stigmatised and isolated. They find it hard to plan for family events and social engagements because they are living in fear of when the next attack is going to debilitate them.” He described migraines as like 'a shadow' hanging over the sufferer.

“People who suffer with severe migraines are more likely to be unemployed. It can also have a huge impact on their feelings of self-worth. It even affects them cognitively. Some people describe feeling slowed up mentally and quite emotionally drained even for a day after an attack."

"There are some people who get these symptoms less than once a month. Others get them once or twice a week so they're living with this shadow over them constantly.” 

According to Dr O’Sullivan symptoms of the illness are not confined to just pain.

“Some people can have symptoms building up for two days before the migraine. People can be sensitive to bright lights or noises. Even smells can be bothersome. There are situations after the headache has resolved where the person has slowed up cognitively and is even finding it difficult to find words. There can be emotional exhaustion.

Symptoms can go on well after the pain. People are becoming a lot more aware of the non-pain symptoms of migraines as well.” He described how delays are only aggravating the problem.

“The problem is accessing healthcare. When migraine sufferers have been to their GP there are longs delays to seeing a neurologist or specialist. Every day, I am seeing people in my clinic with a five or ten-year history of migraines. I have seen people leave their jobs and put their lives on hold for several years. They are often young. This can hit people in their teens, twenties, or thirties-the so-called prime years. This is at a time when people are forging careers for themselves or starting families. It really hits them hard.” 

For a number of patients, hospital admission is the only option. “On occasion, I have to admit people to hospital with migraines.

Sometimes I'll have to admit them for a week so they can receive strong intravenous treatments. They have to break that vicious cycle that's effectively been debilitating them for years. I would often admit people on the severe end to hospital so they can avail of anti-nausea medications and specific migraine therapies to try to break a very severe migraine attack.”

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