“SURE it’s just a headache”. That comment is the bane of every migraine sufferer’s life.
The misconception is that migraine is a minor ailment resolved with paracetamol. The reality is very different. That’s why I’m doing the Evening Echo Women’s Mini Marathon on September 24, to highlight the impact migraine has.
My first experience of migraine was eight years ago when I was boarding a flight to Scotland. I looked in front of me, my vision was completely distorted and I had a numb sensation in my hand. At the time I had no idea what it was.
Now, aged 28, my migraine has changed. I was lucky for seven years, they were rare, one every few months and usually only if I was stressed. Last August, however, they became far more frequent. I went from rarely having one to at worst having one everyday. It was exhausting, confusing and frightening. I became nervous to do things in case I got one and that unpredictability is one of the most challenging factors.
As a migraine sufferer you have to be constantly prepared. These days you won’t see me leave the house without a snack, water and medication.
Triggers are something every migraine sufferer needs to have fine-tuned. These are what bring on an attack.
When trying to describe the complexity of triggers, I compare it to walking a trapeze. It’s a balancing act where you can’t veer off a steady path, you can wobble slightly but if you dip too much to the right or stumble to the left the end result is the same. A migraine.
Triggers can be broken into different categories. Dietary, environmental, emotional, seasonal and hormonal are five which impact me most. In the dietary section my poison is dairy, sugary foods, wine, dehydration or missing meals. Environmental varies between lighting, computer screens, strong smells and loud noise. Emotional is usually if I’m stressed, be that from a personal issue, work or otherwise, and hormonal is a significant one for many female sufferers.
Additionally, seasonal can be an important one for me, with weather bringing on sinus issues, further triggering migraine. Others include travel, change in sleep pattern, alcohol, extreme exercise, altitude and patterns — and keep in mind this is just a snapshot.
When you look at the variety of triggers you begin to understand the delicacy of migraine. Usually, you’ll be able to tolerate one or two triggers without experiencing an attack but once you surpass your threshold, it will strike. For me, this is often three to four triggers in a few days.
Once you solve the puzzle of what your triggers are, you’ve overcome the first hurdle. This process can be lengthy and frustrating and as in my experience, doesn’t always stay the same.
In my early twenties I ate all the dairy I wanted, lighting didn’t affect me nor was I sensitive to screens, patterns or alcohol.
Much like triggers, symptoms vary for each individual. Mine began as numbness in the right hand, visual aura and headache. Now, they’ve evolved to visual aura, nausea, neck pain, occasional vomiting and headache. Others will also possibly experience weakness, vertigo, difficulty concentrating and an upset stomach.
The aftermath can be just as draining. You’ll feel exhausted as if you’ve been hit by a truck and often many will have to try and sleep through the attack itself. Your head can be sore for a day or two after also depending on the severity of the migraine (a particularly bad one can last for days) as well as muscles in the neck and shoulders.
There are many treatments which can be used to ease and manage migraine although not all will work for all people. Specific medication can be taken at the onset that aim to dissipate the pain. This, for me, is usually once the visual aura is experienced. There are daily preventatives which can be prescribed which aim to reduce symptoms and frequency.
Some people also recommend magnesium supplements, acupuncture, seeing a chiropractor or reflexology. I swear by yoga. The skills I’ve learned through yoga help me to stay calm in the midst of an attack which has been of massive benefit to me.
It can be overwhelming trying to deal with migraine because you feel that although you’re doing everything you’re supposed to, you may still get one, not to mention the unpredictability of where or when you get it. Because you can’t always control that aspect, I find the next best thing is try to control how you react.
Remain as calm as you can whatever the situation and follow steps that you feel work best for you.
The need for awareness, support and understanding for migraine sufferers from friends, family and work colleagues is vital and the notion that it’s just a headache needs to be overcome. Migraine is a debilitating condition. No two people will have the same combination of triggers and symptoms so it’s about learning what YOUR migraine experience is and managing that.
A key element is keeping a migraine diary to record details on each migraine: level of pain, symptoms, length of attack and possible triggers. This should help to identify some kind of pattern. The reality is, migraine has a significant impact on people’s lives so next time someone you know has one, please don’t roll your eyes and think it’s just a headache. It’s not.
For more, visit www.migraine.ie
HOW YOU CAN TAKE PART:
THE Evening Echo Women’s Mini Marathon, now in its 36th year, takes place on September 24 and up to 8,000 women are expected to take part in the race.
The race office will be open in Debenhams on Saturday, September 16, 10am to 4pm. Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday 10am to 4pm and Thursday, 10am to 7pm. €12 registration charge at race offce, €12 online, plus handling fee P+P of €1.50 at www.eveningecho.ie/registration This year’s race has been capped at 8,000 participants.
You can also register on the day for €15,providedthe 8,000 places aren’t filled by then.