Kym Klass, Montgomery Advertiser
Nearly one in four U.S. households has someone affected by migraines, according to the Migraine Research Foundation.
On about day nine of a 12-day migraine a couple of months ago, I might have confessed to one person that I sat down inside my house at the end of the day and just let myself cry.
I was beyond exhausted, and strained mentally, physically and emotionally. The normal one-to-two-day migraines I have experienced every few months since my mid-20s would not lift, and while manageable — I didn’t miss a day of work, but did work a couple of days from home — there wasn’t an end in sight, and I felt it would never go away. Even my loyal, can’t-live-without prescription, wasn’t working.
The front of my head, from temple to temple, was a constant source of pain, even if sometimes “just” dull pressure. The stabbing-feeling in the eyes (it would alternate eyes, thankfully), and the nausea took its toll. And after the first full week, a friend very quietly said, “I see it all over your face.”
I was beat. And as a woman, I’m not alone.
About 27 million women in the U.S. are affected by migraines. Total, 36 million men, women and children suffer from the disease — about 18 percent of women in the U.S., and about 6 percent of men, according to the Migraine Research Foundation.
June is recognized as Migraine Awareness Month.
Nearly one in four U.S. households has someone affected by migraines, with the disease most common during the peak productive years, between the ages of 25 and 55 years old, according to the foundation. There is a 40 percent chance a child will suffer from migraines if one parents suffers from them. If both parents suffer from them, the chances increase to 90 percent.
Nobody in my family suffers from migraines. But they have seen first hand how debilitating the disease can be.
While I was able to manage through my 12-day ordeal, there have been times in the past that I could not even get out of bed. There was another time when my daughter was about 8 years old, and had to miss summer camp one day because I could not even lift my head off the pillow.
There was a time it took an hour to email in sick to work because the glare of the computer screen was that strong. I would have called, but that would have required more effort.
There are times I can not speak above a whisper. Other times, there can be no televisions on in the house because any noise hurts too much.
There are times I drive while holding my head in my hand, begging for the ride home to go faster.
There was the time just this past weekend — while out of town, and without my prescription — that I started to text a friend to decline a dinner invitation. I stopped the text mid-way through because it hurt too much, and was too exhausting, to look at the phone and focus. My daughter offered to finish the text for me.
It was laughable the next day.
A migraine is a syndrome, a collection of symptoms that arise from a common cause. A syndrome may occur in a complete form, with all of the typical symptoms, in a less complete form, with some symptoms, or in specific groupings of symptoms, according to the foundation. A migraine is classified according to the grouping of its symptoms. Since symptoms vary widely, migraines are often misdiagnosed.
Many women with migraines tend to have attacks triggered by skipped meals, bright lights, stress and anxiety, alcohol (often red wine), caffeine (too much or withdrawal) and hormonal changes during the menstrual cycle, according to womenshealth.gov. It also lists lack of sleep (or too much) and weather changes as triggers.
Despite the 12 days, I know I’m lucky. I know I don’t have it as bad as some others.
Migraine sufferers experience visual disturbances, nausea, vomiting, dizziness, extreme sensitivity to sound, light, touch and smell, and tingling or numbness in the extremities or face, according to the foundation. While the symptoms and degree of severity depend on the person, I know I’ve got it pretty easy.
There have only been a few times when I didn’t think I’d live to the next day — and those who suffer know that is not an exaggeration.
I believe my first migraine was at age 26. I used to call them “one-day headaches,” because I didn’t know what they were. All I knew was that it forced me to the couch, leaving me unable to do much of anything. No type of aspirin worked. Aspirin is a joke to me now. Nothing over the counter works. Without knowing what was wrong, I used to just wait it out. And the next day, it was gone.
Over time, the migraines would sometimes increase to “two-day headaches.” But never three. Never, ever 12.
The one-to-two-day migraines continued for about nine years before it affected my vision. Sitting at a computer screen working, my vision became blurred in one eye. I thought something was wrong with the website I was on, so opened a new window. Same thing. I turned away from the computer, held a hand lightly over the “good” eye, and realized I was seeing water spots.
And I thought I was going blind — which is funny today. But not at the moment.
Nausea quickly settled in, and then the pain in the front of my head. I thought: “That’s the ‘one-day headache I usually experience,'” and called my doctor.
After blood tests, vision tests, a brain MRI and a lot of unanswered questions, I was finally diagnosed with having migraines.
Still, the question remained: What was causing the migraines? Over time, I noticed they intensified in pain and frequency as the weather changed. And when allergy season peaked. And after paying attention even further, noticed if there were several nights of little sleep, I would be burdened by another one.
We discussed these triggers when I finally saw my doctor last April on about day nine of my migraine. Allergies were at an all-time high during that time, with my doctor having noticed an increase in patients visiting for allergy relief. We relieved some of my allergy symptoms with antihistamines, and I was prescribed new migraine meds.
It worked. And three days later, I cautiously moved forward. I waited for the migraine to return, but it didn’t. And slowly, slowly, the exhaustion from being so sick eventually wore off as well, and I started to feel normal again.
This is one of the hardest diseases to try and explain to someone, because it is not a headache, and it’s hard for us to hear you compare your headache to our migraine. “The migraine sufferers” is not an exclusive club — it’s just one you don’t want to belong to.
Thankfully, sadly, we’re not alone in this. There are millions of us laying in dark rooms with cold cloths on our necks whispering quietly to others. There are millions of us continuing to work despite the pain and discomfort. And there are millions of us waiting for the pain to lift.
Kym Klass can be reached at 334-240-0144 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @kymklass, on the Living Well page on Facebook, or on LivingWellByKym on Instagram.
What is a migraine?
a recurrent throbbing headache that typically affects one side of the head and is often accompanied by nausea and disturbed vision.
A migraine sometimes feels like there is a vice on each side of your head, and someone is cranking it to make it tighter and tighter until the pain is unbearable.
What not to say to migraine sufferers
1. “Do you still have a headache?” It’s not. A headache. Yes, that’s a two-word-two-sentence answer. Because sometimes it hurts that much to talk. The best question to ask would be: “How are you feeling?” and let the person answer, if they can.
2. “I think I had a migraine once.” You don’t “think.” Either you know, or you didn’t have one. Did you feel like vomiting? Was your vision blurred? Did your head feel like it would explode when you lowered your head below your heart? Did you feel you could not open your eyes? Could you not speak above a whisper?
3. “I had a headache that felt like a migraine.” No, you didn’t.
For more information
To learn more, visit the Migraine Research Foundation online at http://www.migraineresearchfoundation.org.