Migraine is far more than a headache

Sarah Robertson has a lot more good days now. Her migraine headaches have been reduced to about a dozen a month. Still, there are times when the pain is so bad she gives up on trying to run errands, or take her daughter to extra-curricular activities. In those times, it is straight to bed, in a quiet room.

“I will start yawning, and then I will start having an aura, the white or black spots floating across my field of vision,” says Sarah, a 41-year-old registered nurse who works as a manager in a hospital in the Greater Toronto Area. “Then the pain starts. It is usually located in my right temporal lobe. The throbbing can be so bad, it is like an ‘Oh God I am going to die’ kind of pain and you hope it is going to subside sooner rather than later.”

An estimated 2.7 million Canadians live with migraine headaches. It is a complex, often inherited neurological condition that takes a heavy toll on individuals, and their families. Triggers for the headaches vary, but include changes in barometric pressure, stress, lack of sleep, and missed meals. Women are more likely to experience migraines than men.

Along with the serious health effects on individuals, migraines have an impact on society. Headache researchers have estimated the cost of migraines in the workplace in Canada at approximately $500 million a year.

Sarah has lived with migraine headaches for more than three decades. They can last from a few hours, to several days. Along with the pain, she experiences a sensitivity to light and sound, nausea, and vomiting.

The headaches first started when she was about eight or nine years old, growing up in London, Ontario. Her family only realized they were migraines years later, when she was a teenager. At that point, they were a lot worse. She was diagnosed with Chronic Migraine, defined as 15 days or more of migraine headaches a month, and began to see neurologist Dr. Paul Cooper.

“We make light of headaches. We tend to dismiss them as more of a self-induced kind of thing, and it really is a significant pain condition,” says Dr. Cooper, who is Chair of the Department of Clinical Neurological Sciences at the Schulich School of Medicine, at Western University. He calculates that about 90 per cent of the patients he sees at the John Kreeft Headache Clinic in London are living with chronic migraine. The impact of the disease, he says, is enormous as it effects their ability to function at work, and in the home.

“The World Health Organization recognizes migraine as the biggest cause of disability in the neurological world,” Dr. Cooper notes. “It is worse than stroke. It is worse than Parkinson’s Disease. The reason is migraine affects people over such a long lifespan.”

Sarah credits her long-time neurologist, Dr. Cooper, with guiding her through “some pretty trying times”. She remembers her high school, and university years as being especially rough.

Pounding headaches forced her to miss weeks of classes, and postpone exams. Instead of socializing with friends, she would often retreat to a darkened room.

“I was a disaster in my teens, I was a disaster in my twenties. I was probably every professor’s worst nightmare through my first degree,” she recalls. “You are living in constant fear of the next headache. How long will it last? Will I have to go to the hospital?”

Medical therapies for migraines have evolved significantly in the years since Sarah was a student. Over the past decade, she has found a combination of lifestyle changes and therapy that has helped stabilize her symptoms and improved her outlook. As researchers learn more about the inner workings of the brain, and what causes migraines, it becomes a condition with fewer secrets.

There are days, especially during sharp swings in we.ather patterns, that a headache will still knock Sarah off her feet. With the support of her neurologist and family doctor, those days are not as common as they used to be. She is now better able to control an illness that has sapped her energy, and stolen so much of her time. While they continue to impact her life, she refuses to be held hostage by migraines.

Talk to your doctor for more information on the management of migraine, and available treatment options.

This story was created by Content Works, Postmedia’s commercial content division, on behalf of a research based pharmaceutical company.

Photo credit: National Post.
Original article at: http://nationalpost.com/patient-diaries/migraine-is-far-more-than-a-headache

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