Friday, August 04, 2006

Migraines as a Child and Teenager

As I began this blog I did a Google search on migraine images. I was impressed with all the fantastic images. You could tell these artists suffered with migraines. I think all these intense images may have actually triggered a migraine... lol

As a child, I would often get sick to my stomach. My mother told me it was because I was an excitable child. As I have since educated myself about migraines, I now realize this was probably a manifestation of migraines. It didn't happen often, but enough that my mother thought something was wrong with me.

As I got into my teens and puberty, I began getting headaches instead. Again, it wasn't frequently, but enough that I often missed school because I didn't feel well. My mother often thought I was making it up just to get out of school. Granted, I didn't like school too well, but since I used up to many sick days actually being sick, I didn't fake it.

Migraines are hereditary. But in the 50's they were not understood. Both my grandmother and mother got what they called in those days "sick headaches." Which is actually a good alternative name for them as they make your whole body feel sick. So, I really can't understand why my mother didn't actually acknowledge I had so many headaches as a teenager. Possibly because her headaches weren't very frequent and didn't occur until she was older. I can't explain why my migraine onset was so early and got so severe throughout my life. Perhaps it was the fall onto my head from the monkey bars, the concussion to my right temple I had around age 9, and that wreck on my bike where I conked my head on the sidewalk so hard I passed out? I'm certain those blows to my head and neck made whatever predisposition I had for migraines worse.

I continued through my teen years with the occasional migraine that would easily go away with a cold washrag and a few hours rest. I don't remember ever getting so sick to my stomach that I threw up during those years. I quickly bounced back and didn't think much of them, except that I had more than my share of headaches.I was, otherwise, a healthy teenager. My migraines were manageable, though still undiagnosed, until my 20's. From that point onward, it was a downhill battle...

What is Migraine You Ask?

Most people know migraines are severe headaches. But few realize they are a brain disorder. You don't just "get" a migraine. You have migraine, which is the name of the disorder. Before I go into writing my journal on my life with pain, I would like to try to educate people a little about this condition. It's not something that can be cured. At best, we hope we can control our attacks so they aren't so severe. If I can help one person understand what migraine sufferers go through, then I will be pleased. If I can help one person who is just beginning to suffer with migraines and needs help and support in understanding them, I will be THRILLED !!

What is migraine?

Migraine is a recurrent brain disorder, characterized by a throbbing headache, which in reality is more than "just a headache". It can be a debilitating condition, which has a considerable impact on the quality of life of sufferers and their families. Attacks can be completely disabling, forcing the sufferer to abandon everyday activities for up to 3 days. Even in symptom-free periods, sufferers may live in fear of the next attack.

Who suffers from migraine?

About one in ten people suffer from migraine, although the prevalence varies with age. Most migraine sufferers experience their first attacks during childhood or as teenagers, but migraines can sometimes begin during adult life. Studies have shown that, the age of onset is earlier in boys than in girls. Migraine can affect people at any age, but it is most common from 25 to 55 years of age, when work and family commitments are maximal. Migraine prevalence also varies with gender and is two to three times more common in women than in men. The higher prevalence in women may be explained in part by hormonal factors. However, it is not just a "women's disorder"; over one in every 20 men also suffer from migraine.

What causes migraine?

Migraine is believed to be caused by the release of a chemical called serotonin into the bloodstream from its storage sites in the body, resulting in changes in the neurotransmitters and blood vessels in the brain. Exactly what causes this to happen is still a subject for research and debate. However certain factors have been identified which can set off attacks in susceptible people, called the trigger factors. Migraine triggers are numerous and varied and occur in combinations peculiar to each individual. For most people there is not just one trigger but a combination of factors when present together result in a migraine attack. Although it can be helpful to identify and avoid ones own personal trigger factors, however, it is important not to become too obsessive.

Want to know just some of the triggers we deal with daily?
  • Foods that may trigger migraines:
    - Aged cheese
    - Alcoholic beverages, especially red wine
    - Aspartame
    - Chocolate, cocoa and carob
    - Citrus fruits
    - Caffeine (in excess)
    - Cultured dairy products, such as buttermilk and sour cream
    - Preservatflavoravour enhancers/Monosodium glutamate (MSG)
    - Nuts and peanut butter
    - Pickled, preserved or marinated foods, such as olives,pickles
  • Environmental triggers include:
    - Loud or repetitive noise
    - Stodorsdours (perfume)
    - Certain weather conditions (dry winds, heat)
    - Changes in the weather
    - Altitude changes
    - Chemicals such as insecticides
    - Air pollutifluorescentscent lighting
    - Flickering lights (eg. Computer monitors)
  • Physiological triggers include:
    - Stress or depression
    - Menstrual periods, birth control pills and hormones
    - Changes in sleeping patterns or sleeping time
    - Medicines such as antihistamines, aspirin or diuretics
    - Missing meals or fasting

The above varies from person to person and it is often a combination of them that will trigger a migraine. Sounds like a lot to avoid, doesn't it? It is...

How does a migraine attack feel?

The migraine attack may be characterized by intense throbbing headache, often on one side of the head only, nausea, vomitdiarrhearhoea, increased sensitivity to light, increased sensitivity to sounds and increased sensitivity to smell. In few, migraine attack may be preceded by an unusual sense of feeling or symptoms called aura. Aura commonly manifests as visual disturbances including blind spots, flashing lights or zigzag patterns; confusion, inability to concentrate, problems with articulation or co-ordination, or tingling, pins and needles or numbness on the affected side.

This is just a general outline of what migraine is. It's not meant to be an educational blog. I have listed some great links to educational and support sites on migraine. If you wish to learn more about this disorder, please check them out.

This blog's main purpose is for me to just "write" about the physical pain I've dealt with in my life. I think it will be cathartic writing about it. But before I went further, I felt this one post is important as an introduction to my story...