14 Things You Want to Know About Migraines
Migraines are an extremely common health condition, affecting about 39 million Americans and 1 billion people worldwide, according to the Migraine Research Foundation. They’re always inconvenient, not to mention downright painful. But when you’re a parent with a migraine, it can be all the more difficult to deal with the sudden onset of a severe headache that can leave you in agony and derail your plans.
The truth is, kids don’t stop just because you have a migraine. And even more bad news: Most migraine sufferers tend to be women around childbearing age, according to Dr. Thomas Kreibich, the chief neurologist at Holy Name Hospital in New Jersey.
Anyone who has had this unpleasant experience knows that they can be completely debilitating. If you have been suffering from migraines for a while, you are likely familiar with the possible triggers that can bring them on and what helps you to get through the experience. But no two migraines are exactly alike and how they affect you can evolve over time, too. This is one condition that the more you know, the better!
There Are Several Different Kinds
If you’re someone who gets regular migraines, it’s not unlikely that there is a certain type to which you’re more prone. Dr. Kreibich explains that for migraine sufferers, they often present quite differently. “They are so individual and varied from person to person,” he says.
Overall, there are two main types of migraines: a common migraine and a migraine that comes with an aura (visual disturbances). But there are also different subsets of the categories, like menstrual migraines, ocular migraines and other rare types.
They Can Knock You Out for a Day
A migraine might seem like just a bad headache, especially if it isn’t coupled with other symptoms. But the truth is, a migraine can last for hours or all day.
And worse, even if the headache itself only lasts for a short period of time, the aftereffects can leave you feeling drained, run down or with a (hopefully less intense) headache all the way into the next day.
Chronic Migraines Can Alter Your Life
For most people, migraines are a painful inconvenience. But for chronic migraine sufferers, they can force you to completely rearrange your life. Lauri Walker, a mother of four living in Buckley, Washington, has near-constant migraines, with just a handful of pain-free days a month. She says the condition impacts just about every part of her life and how she plans her day to day.
“I will never leave my house without checking for my meds — ever,” she says. “I never go a day without thinking about what I eat, what my triggers are, if I can sit in a room because the fluorescent lights will give me a headache. I can't see a 3D movie; I can't wear bifocals (I tried, but not good); and I often wonder, ‘How far from home am I, and can I drive back if I get a headache?’”
The Symptoms Can Differ, Too
While migraines themselves can be different, the symptoms leading up to them can be different, too. Some people may feel groggy or unfocused before a migraine. Sometimes, the headaches can appear out of nowhere, and other times, they come on slowly, with a headache that slowly worsens, usually on one side of the head.
When a migraine with an aura occurs, visual disturbances often come first, even before the onset of the headache. While they may never start exactly the same, migraine sufferers can begin to notice subtle symptoms and, sometimes, even take steps to alleviate the headaches (like over-the-counter or prescription medication) before they become debilitating.
Only a small minority of people who suffer from migraines report seeing an “aura” prior to the onset of the headache.
"A common misperception is that most patients with migraine experience aura before the onset of headache, when in fact, 80-90 percent of sufferers do not," according to the National Headache Foundation.
Stress Can Be a Huge Trigger
Dr. Kreibich says stress can be a trigger for some people, but it can definitely worsen the severity of an oncoming migraine, too. Studies routinely show that stress can cause all kinds of headaches, and migraines are no exception.
If you’ve been very stressed and are getting migraines, your body may be speaking to you, so investigate what you can do to destress wherever possible. It may be impacting, not just your emotional health, but your physical health, too.
They Can Run in Your Family
If you just started getting migraines, your doctor will likely ask if they run in your family. That’s because about 80 to 90 percent of migraine sufferers have parents who suffer from them, too.
While there may be other contributing factors, family history is one you can’t do much about to keep migraines at bay.
In the Genes
Put another way, a child of a migraine sufferer has a good chance of being affected by the disease as well, and an even better chance if both parents do.
According to the National Headache Foundation, "A child has a 50 percent chance of becoming a sufferer if one parent suffers and a 75 percent chance if both parents suffer."
Your Age Alone Can Be a Trigger
While migraines can start early in life, age can be a factor in your likelihood of getting migraines. Women especially have a peak migraine age, which is typically around their mid-thirties.
That means that the likelihood that mothers may have to cope with migraines while parenting is actually pretty good (well, pretty bad).
Women More Than Men
Both men and women suffer from migraines, but women experience them more often, at a ratio of 3:1, according to the National Headache Foundation.
"Peak prevalence for migraine is between the ages of 20 and 45 for both genders," according to the foundation.
The Degree and Time Varies
According to the National Headache Foundation, migraines affect about 13 percent of the U.S. population. This means on average, there is one migraine sufferer in every four households.
Attacks are unpredictable not only in what causes them and how severe they can be but also in their duration. They can last anywhere from four to 72 hours.
Hormones Can Be a Leading Cause
There are several reasons why migraines might start to occur sporadically or routinely. But changes in hormones can be a leading contributor. Walker says that, while her migraines can be somewhat controlled with medication nowadays, she always gets them prior to menstruation.
Menstrual migraines affect women due to changes in hormones, usually a few days before their menstrual cycle begins. Dips in estrogen, as well as changes in sleep patterns (also brought on by hormone fluctuations), can set off a migraine and, unfortunately for women, it can become a pattern.
You Might Throw Up
What does your head have to do with your stomach? Apparently a lot. Migraine pain can often be so severe, it creates abdominal discomfort, nausea or vomiting.
During a migraine, the fight-or-flight response is triggered, which speeds up your heart rate, raises your blood pressure and slows digestion. The stomach dilates any undigested food sitting in your stomach, which sometimes means that you’ll throw up.
They Can Resemble Scarier Conditions
Certain migraines can be extra scary, not merely because of the pain factor, but because of other frightening symptoms. Neurological changes, like decreased blood flow to a certain area of the brain that controls language, can sometimes make speaking difficult.
In cases like this, migraines can often look very much like strokes, so much that it’s hard to tell the difference. Even if you’re a frequent migraine sufferer, if you notice any neurological changes, make sure you visit a doctor to get checked out.
Chewing on Ice Can Be a Cure
There are tons of at-home fixes for migraines, and most migraine sufferers have likely tried them all. Dr. Kreibich says what works for one person won’t work for others, but trying home remedies is not a bad idea. Tricks like chewing on ice can be helpful in some patients, he claims.
“If you start to get a migraine and don’t have medication, would it be ridiculous to drink a Slurpee? Definitely not,” he points out. “It can constrict the blood vessels, and dilation of those blood vessels is thought to be how migraines work.”
They Can Alter All Your Senses
Walker says that because her migraines are never quite the same, they can impact her in a whole variety of ways. “I get facial numbness, loss of vision and offset balance. I would not pass a field sobriety test on a migraine,” she says.
It is not uncommon that almost all of her senses are affected. Changes in vision, hearing (and balance), smell and even taste can often occur with migraines, too.
Herbal Remedies Can Help
Dr. Kreibich says that when it comes to migraines, there are some important herbal supplements to consider. He says he frequently prescribes melatonin, but magnesium and B-vitamins can be helpful (especially in women). These supplements are known to promote good sleep as well as relieve stress, both of which can help decrease migraine triggers.
These supplements can be helpful for anyone, as they are particularly important for people who can’t take medications, like pregnant women, who are more at risk due to age and hormonal changes. So, starting a supplement regimen (under the care of a doctor) may be a very good idea.
Exercise Has Huge Benefits
Doctors will commonly prescribe exercise to reduce the frequency of migraines, and with good reason. Getting at least 30 minutes of moderate intensity exercise per day can help reduce stress and promote sleep as well as other healthy habits.
It also helps regulate blood pressure and tons of other bodily functions. While it may not be a cure-all, regular exercise definitely won’t hurt.
Sometimes, All You Can Do Is Rest
Despite everything you do to prevent them or stop them in their tracks, sometimes the only thing you can do for a migraine is to relent and to rest. If you have the opportunity to find some dark and some quiet time, then by all means, take it.
It’s true, that when you’re a parent, sometimes you simply have to power through. But putting on a movie for the kids and getting some shut-eye will usually have you feeling better sooner.
The Cost of Suffering
According to a 1999 report by the Archives of Internal Medicine, migraines cost American employers $31 billion per year due to missed work and reduced productivity.
An estimated 157 million workdays are lost annually because of the pain and associated symptoms of migraine," according to the NHF.