I’m sure many of you have heard this before: migraine is more than just a headache.
But what does that mean?
For starters, migraine is a neurological disorder for which there is no cure. While it’s more common for women, the disease can also impact men and children.
Trying to make sense of a migraine is like trying to solve a puzzle that is missing pieces, and I’m hoping to shed some light on the subject since June is Migraine and Headache Awareness Month.
I’ve had migraines for over 20 years, and I am always learning something new about the disease, which the American Migraine Foundation says is a disabling condition that affects about 12 percent of the population worldwide.
About 1 percent have been diagnosed with chronic migraine, meaning episodes occur at least 15 days a month for more than three months.
Risk factors could include depression, anxiety, stress, and head or neck injuries, and common treatments include prescription medication, vitamins and supplements, and lifestyle changes.
If you ask five different migraine sufferers about their migraines, you’re likely to get five different answers.
There are a wide range of symptoms and side effects like nausea, blurred vision, dizziness, confusion and insomnia.
Some migraine sufferers don’t experience head pain when an attack strikes. Others have pounding or throbbing pain that’s often compared to hammers or ice picks.
I’m the latter. I have been through so much trial and error with medications, food elimination diets, supplements, vitamins, medical tests, doctors’ appointments, and attempts at maintaining regular exercise routines.
The only time during that 20-year period that I was free of migraines was when I was pregnant. That confirms that my migraines are sometimes hormonal.
I also have a family history of migraines, which is beyond my control.
As I write this column, I am coming down from a migraine that I’ve had off and on for the better part of a week, and it was likely set off by the weather.
We’ve had a few humid days mixed in with cooler temperatures and rain; changes in the weather from one day to the next or severe weather are common migraine triggers – again, something that I can’t control.
Living with migraine is stressful, and I am frustrated that it sometimes forces me to miss quality time with my family, social events and work.
I was diagnosed with mild anxiety and depression a few years ago, which is common for migraine sufferers.
I started taking an anti-depressant, which helps prevent migraines set off by stress. I take a few other preventatives and avoid certain foods and beverages like things with a lot of preservatives and caffeine (caffeine withdrawal was not fun).
I also try to stay away from certain odors that can be overwhelming, like scented candles, air fresheners, perfume, cleaning products and cigarette smoke.
But sometimes those are hard to avoid, especially if you’re visiting someone’s home or you’re out and about in public.
I learned the hard way that sitting in a nail salon with poor ventilation is not a good idea – I had to leave the rehearsal dinner for my sister’s wedding later that day because of a terrible migraine that had me worried I’d miss the big day (thankfully I was OK after taking my abortive medication and getting a good night’s sleep).
And sleep is usually the best thing for me when I’m fighting a migraine, along with white noise, a dark room, Icy Hot and lots of ice packs.
Then there is the “migraine hangover,” which can last for several days after the worst has passed. It can leave me feeling mentally and physically exhausted with confusion, irritability and sometimes a rebound headache.
I feel like I have my migraines under control for the most part, though I still struggle with the weather, stress and PMS at times.
Tracking my migraines through the Migraine Buddy app has helped me identify some triggers and helpful treatments, though it’s alarming to get a notification asking if you’re OK because you’ve had a migraine for three days.
I see a therapist on a regular basis, and I have a neurologist who consults with my primary care physician on my treatments and progress.
We’ve ruled out other conditions that can be connected to migraines, like sleep apnea, and I am hoping that an upcoming surgical procedure will take care of my iron deficiency, which could be contributing to some of the migraines.
I am thankful to have support from family, friends, colleagues and my doctors. My husband Steve learned long ago I need to be alone while in the midst of a migraine, and he understands that self-care is an important tool that can help prevent an attack. (I love my weekend naps).
My 5-year-old son Gavin is still learning about migraine, but he is showing compassion and concern when Mommy doesn’t feel good, offering to pat my head or bring me a snack and water.
And I have found additional support from pages and groups I follow on Facebook: The Daily Migraine, Move Against Migraine, Achy Smile and Migraine.com
We share all kinds of information about our migraine experiences, and it is comforting to know that I am not alone.
If you want to learn more about migraine, check out the resources I listed, or contact me. I am always willing to help educate others about this disease.
I hope that more affordable treatments and access to quality care become available and that our voices are heard.
MONICA PRYTS is a staff writer for Allied News in Grove City and The Herald in Sharon. She has been with the newspaper since 2004. She lives in Sharpsville with her husband, Stephen, and their son, Gavin. She can be reached at email@example.com