Anyone who’s dealt with a migraine attack can tell you that they would do almost anything never to experience that kind of pain again.
But despite how common they are, people have many misconceptions about the condition and how drastically it can impact someone’s life.
Here are some of the top things people with migraine want you to know.
Almost everyone who’s dealt with regular migraine episodes has been told that what they’re experiencing is just a “bad headache.”
But migraine pain isn’t something that will go away if you drink enough water and take some Advil.
Dr. Vernon Williams, board certified neurologist and director of the Center for Sports Neurology and Pain Medicine at Cedars-Sinai Kerlan-Jobe Institute in Los Angeles, shares that migraine involves more symptoms than head pain, including:
- pounding or throbbing pain
- pain that engulfs the entire head
- pain that shifts from one side to the other
- sound sensitivity
- odor sensitivity
- light sensitivity
- vision issues
- loss of appetite
- nausea and vomiting
Dr. Huma Sheikh board certified neurologist at Headaches NYC, shares that “migraine is more common than asthma and diabetes combined.”
In fact, according to the American Migraine Foundation, more than 1 billion people worldwide live with migraine.
There’s also a lack of headache specialists available to diagnose and treat migraine. And since not all medical professionals can diagnose this complex neurological condition correctly, people may live with the condition without an official diagnosis.
And among people with a diagnosis, migraine can cause severe disability.
“In one study among patients with migraines in the U.S., more than half of participants reported severe impairment in activity, the need for bed rest, and/or reduced work or school productivity,” said Dr. Pooja Patel, a neurologist at Baptists Health’s Marcus Neuroscience Institute who has treated many people with migraine.
There’s currently no cure for migraine.
“Migraine is a genetic neurological disease that currently does not have a cure,” said Sheikh, “but there are many ways to control the number of symptoms and disability that it can cause.”
Many people manage the condition by making lifestyle changes and taking prescription medication.
“In mild to moderate cases, lifestyle and behavioral changes, mindfulness meditation, and supplements or over-the-counter medications may be sufficient,” says Williams.
For people with chronic migraine, preventive and abortive prescription therapies may be necessary to help manage pain and other symptoms.
It’s important to note, though, that what works for one person with migraine may not work for someone else. Consider working with a headache specialist who understands the complexities of this condition.
People who manage migraine regularly can tell you how painful this condition can be.
According to one
Dr. Medhat Mikhael, medical director of the non-operative program at the Spine Health Center at Memorial Care Orange Coast Medical Center in Fountain Valley, California, is a pain management specialist and no stranger to treating migraine.
“[Migraine] can be chronic and sometimes debilitating and disabling if not adequately treated,” said Mikhael.
Migraine can make it hard to concentrate, sleep, and make plans, impacting a person’s work and social life.
Some forms of migraine are even dangerous enough to require emergency medical attention. Hemiplegic migraine, for example, says Mikhael can lead to stroke.
According to Williams, some common triggers include:
- bright lights
- loud sounds
- strong smells
- low blood sugar
- too little, or too much, sleep
- direct pressure on the head
- strenuous physical activity
- elevated stress levels
Often, it’s not just one trigger that precipitates an episode but many combined. So a noisy environment may not cause a migraine attack on its own, but combined with high stress, bright lights, and poor sleep can create the perfect storm for a flare-up.
Several known food triggers include:
- artificial sweeteners
- processed meats
- aged cheeses
- fermented foods
Keep in mind migraine triggers are unique and can vary from person to person.
Some people can go years before they figure out their personal triggers.
Despite your best efforts, migraine episodes can still happen. While staying rested, hydrating, and avoiding triggers can help some people decrease the frequency and severity of migraine attacks, they can still happen at any time.
Dr. Ellie Heintze, a naturopathic doctor and licensed acupuncturist, explains that managing stress can only do so much for preventing migraine attacks.
“There are many other factors that can play into migraine formation such as hormone changes, food allergies or intolerance, and even environmental triggers like fragrance and mold exposure,” says Heintze.
And because triggers can be tricky to identify, it isn’t always possible to avoid them and prevent painful attacks.
If migraine is preventing you from participating in your life, consider talking with a doctor, whether online or in-person, about your symptoms.
They can help refer you to a headache specialist and discuss potential treatment options available.