Nausea, sensitivity to movement and light, brain fog, pounding headaches: these are just a few of the symptoms associated with migraines, a painful neurological disease that is often compared to a power failure in the body.
Although up to 15% of Irish suffer from the disease, it is often pushed aside. Some with migraines feel embarrassed when they are unable to function because of a “headache”.
For those affected, however, the onset of a migraine is much more than just a headache.
“I get knocked down a few times a year, and when it happens it can take days,” says TV presenter Anna Daly.
“The only reason I found out about my migraines was because I drove to work a few years ago and had had a headache for days. My husband kept asking me if it could go on like this, and I was almost embarrassed to say what now seems so ridiculous. I had been on a lot of pain medication, but when I drove to Ireland that day I actually turned around and drove to Loughlinstown Hospital because I was so worried. They sent me to St. Vincent’s Hospital in an ambulance and I finally got a diagnosis. “
Daly was in her early 40s at the time and had no idea that her frequent headaches were migraines. “I’ve got it all my life, but I’ve always attributed it to things like lack of sleep or a hangover. I just never made the link, ”she says.
“The headache usually makes me feel sick and then I just switch off. I really can’t function properly when I get one. It starts with a normal headache, but in the end I just lay my head in my hands, which happened the day I went to the hospital. Fortunately, I haven’t had an episode like this since then because I have the right medication now. “
The mother of three couldn’t determine what caused her migraines, but her doctors now believe that it is hormonal. It’s a topic she’s discussing in a new podcast. Beyond migraines, which was launched earlier this month by the Migraine Association of Ireland.
“At a breakfast show, I didn’t eat anything for hours and also drank too much coffee, which the doctors described as a possible trigger. My migraines are also related to my hormones, so I need to watch my menstrual cycle. The pregnancy was also very difficult for me, ”says Daly.
“As with everything in life, it’s about doing research, taking responsibility, and arming yourself with the right medication. I would recommend anyone wondering if they have a migraine to really look into it. “
Neuroscientist and author Sabina Higgins, also featured on the podcast, says being unable to function is a common side effect of migraines.
“A migraine is a malfunction in your brain. People can have difficulty concentrating, finding words, or making decisions. Migraines are one of the most debilitating neurological diseases in the world, ”she says.
“People tend to think of it as just a severe headache, and what really doesn’t help is when people use the word migraine to describe a hangover or tension headache. That really minimizes the condition for those who have it. “
Brennan suffers from chronic migraines, which is just one type of illness. “Migraines can take so many forms. Some people may have episodic migraines, where they may have episodes once or twice a month. Others, like me, may have chronic migraines every day for more than 15 days a month. I almost always have a headache, but I don’t always have to go to bed with it, ”she says.
“Once a month I have a really bad couple of days and I just feel generally unwell. Sometimes I get visual distortion and can’t see properly, or I feel a little nauseous. The main thing will be that I feel incredibly tired. I just can’t work when that happens, I really can’t work. “
Scientists don’t know exactly what causes migraines, but around 60% of cases are hereditary, according to the Migraine Association of Ireland. The condition can affect any age group, with some children showing symptoms by 12 months of age. Women are also three times more likely to be affected by hormonal changes.
“Hormones play a crucial role. Many women get very severe migraines just before or during their period, suggesting that lack of estrogen could be to blame, ”says Brennan.
“Stress is the most common trigger. It’s not that people with migraines can’t handle stress, it’s just that something in the stress response seems to trigger the activity in the brain that leads to a migraine.
“Symptoms can also be triggered by sensory stimuli such as light. However, the same type of light cannot always trigger you. For example, some days I can use the lights on my dresser to do my makeup, but other days I can’t. Smell is another trigger for some – washing powder, deodorant, perfume. I once sat on an airplane next to a woman who wore heavy perfume and was in pain for hours. “
It is estimated that the average migraine sufferer lost between one and a half and four and a half work days per year, resulting in a loss of € 252 million per year for Irish businesses. While there isn’t much that can be done about lost productivity, Brennan has some advice for those who experience migraines in a work day.
“I try to make a list of ‘no-brain’ jobs that I can do when I’m not feeling well. It might help to just go about doing things that are more routine and that you don’t really have to think about, ”she says.
“Many of us who suffer have to endure migraines, and often migraineurs make lifestyle adjustments to function effectively.”
One of those people who are learning to adapt is former Miss Ireland and new mom Aoife Walsh, who has a family history of migraines. “I used to have headaches a lot, but I’ve always attributed them to traveling because I’ve been to New York so often. My sleep pattern was everywhere, ”she says.
“I remember the first time I got a really heavy one. I was in Dublin and it was the middle of the night and I couldn’t sleep because my internal clock was off. I was suddenly struck by this excruciating pain in my head. It was like nothing I had ever experienced before. I was so scared that I really am that scared. My best friend is a nurse, so I texted her to see if I had to go to the emergency room and she explained it was probably a migraine. “
Walsh went to her family doctor after the episode and has since learned that her migraines were related to her sleep pattern, so she tried to adjust her schedule to make sure she got enough rest at night.
“When I don’t sleep properly, I wake up with a headache. So I had to learn how to deal with it because in the afternoon these headaches continued to worsen until I had a full blown migraine and that would completely disrupt my day. I had to go back to bed and everything I was supposed to do that day had to be put on hold. It really affected my life, ”says Walsh.
However, getting enough sleep can be difficult with a newborn at home. Walsh gave birth to their daughter Penny in July, which has caused some disruption to the 32-year-old’s schedule. However, she tries to rest as much as possible to avoid having a migraine overwhelm her day.
“Having a baby can really disrupt your routine, as can so many other ways, but that’s why it’s so important to have access to the information that can help you. My GP recommended that I keep a sleep and food diary and I found it very helpful. For the future, I just need to keep in mind the triggers that I know I have. It is really important to be in tune with your body. “
Neuroscientist Sabina Higgins shares her top tips for relieving migraines:
A practice: “Exercising provides the brain with more oxygen and helps reduce stress, the most common trigger for migraines.”
Stick to a schedule: “The brain lives from regularity. It depends on the nutrients we ingest. If we withdraw it through irregular meals or at different sleep times, it does not know when it has energy, and that can lead to a migraine. “
Spend time outdoors: “Clogged rooms can also trigger a migraine, so try walking or sitting outside if you think a migraine is coming.”
Keep a diary: “A journal is great because it can help you identify triggers that you don’t know you have.”
sleep: “A good quality of sleep as well as a good quantity of sleep are crucial for the health of the brain.”