Migraine Awareness Week: Not Bad Headaches

Sep 11, 2021

* This post has been written by one of our volunteer content creators. *

It’s Migraine Awareness Week and I’m honoured to have been asked to write something on behalf of Access Your Life to mark the occasion.

Migraine sufferers know it is such a misunderstood condition, whereby people often use it as an excuse to get out of work or school. I wish I didn’t have to write this post but it is something I suffer with so severely and awareness is so so important! Migraine is not just a headache.

What is a migraine?

Migraine is a neurological condition that can also cause multiple other symptoms. Most frequent migraine ‘attacks’ will include a debilitating headache on one side of the head. Migraine can often come with nausea, vomiting, or sensitivity to light.

Migraine can vary in intensity and symptoms can fluctuate over time. A migraine will affect an individual's ability to carry out day to day tasks; it often leaves patients bedbound for hours or even days at a time.

Migraine is not an excuse to get out of work or doing something you don’t want to do. Migraine is a serious neurological condition.

When we think of migraines we may initially think of a headache, however, there are multiple types of migraines: chronic migraine sufferers have symptoms for over 50% of the month; hemiplegic migraines present like a stroke, migraine with aura, just to name a few.

Causes of migraine

Migraines can be triggered more easily in some people due to genetics. Factors such as emotions and environment can all play a role too including:

- Stress
- Hormones
- Anxiety
- High air pressure
- Sleep issues
- Diet
- Exercise
- Neck injury/back injury/pain
- Bright or flickering lights
- Loud noises

Stages of migraine

Despite common belief, migraine sufferers often experience multiple stages to their attacks. When we think of migraines, we automatically think of your typical painful head migraine, yet it is rare we acknowledge the symptoms migraine sufferers experience leading up to this stage - sufferers often experience warning signs prior to a migraine, typically known as the premonitory stage. Warning signs can include physical and mental changes to our bodies like pain and fatigue. Similarly, following your typical ‘attack’, migraine sufferers often refer to the ‘migraine hangover' - the period of time of feeling generally unwell recovering from the trauma their bodies have recently endured. This is known as the postdrome stage.

The brutality of migraine

Earlier this year I lost my speech for two weeks following a severe migraine attack. This is not an uncommon response to a rare form of migraine called a hemiplegic migraine attack. When experiencing hemiplegic migraines, paramedics in the past have worried I'd been having a stroke.

- Intense stabbing pain behind the eyes
- Slurred speech
- Temporary paralysis
- Neurological twitches and pins and needles
- Facial drooping
- Confusion
- Blurred vision

Things that have helped me with bad migraines

- Blue light lenses in my prescription glasses
- Adjusting my phone display (on iPhone, you can reduce the colour intensity in Settings > Accessibility > Display & Text Size > Reduce White Point.)
- Tiger balm (white for headaches, red on the neck for muscle ache)
- Ear defenders for noise cancellation
- Sunglasses for light sensitivity
- Long hot water bottle
- Lavender oil
- Prescription preventative medication (consult your doctor for options)
- Prescription abortive medication (consult your doctor for options)

How to support a friend or family member living with chronic or debilitating migraine

- Understand migraine is not just a bad headache.
- Help reduce their stress levels.
- Educate other family members on migraines.
- Understand situations that may trigger symptoms and help to prevent attacks; the migraine ‘hangover’ is very real and even though the head pain may have subsided, migraines work in cycles. Remember a migraine is not just the typical ‘lie down in a dark room and get better’ headache. Many neurological migraine symptoms can last days before and days after the typical ‘painful head’ migraine attack.

To learn more on migraine:

Migraine Trust

A purple banner with information on the writer of this blog - Lauren! Along with an image of Lauren standing in front of a lake. She is wearing pink coat and smiling directly at the camera.