I have a unique perspective in that I not only treat patients in the office who suffer from migraines but also happen to suffer from them too.
In fact, I’ve had migraines since I was 12.
I still remember the first day I ever had one. It left quite an impression in my memory bank because the experience was so scary and confusing.
It was back in the late 80’s and I was playing with some friends in our apartment complex back in Southern California, where we lived. I was a pre-teen, playing like any other middle schooler does, actively, and in the heat.
It suddenly hit me and I couldn’t speak. I tried, but the sounds that came out of my mouth were nonsensical, jumbled. I wasn’t making sense.
What in the world was happening to me?
I remember one of my friends looking confused and asking, “What?”
I continued stuttering but felt futile in my struggle. Thoughts formed perfectly in my head and yet I just couldn’t articulate them. Panic set in.
Now imagine yourself, a 12 year old, unable to speak. Worse off, I had been able to form them just moments before.
I isolated myself from the group. I didn’t know what was happening to me, but I knew I needed space.
Next came the blurred vision, followed by the numbness, tingling, and the excruciating pain of the headache itself.
What I experienced was a form of migraine disorder where you can suffer from aphasia, or the inability to express words. It is part of a migraine with aura. If you’ve never seen aphasia before, here is a news reporter who experiences it live on television, much to the shock of her viewers. You can not only imagine, but also clearly see the fear and confusion that she’s feeling.
There are different types of migraines.
There are those that are straightforward, causing a pounding-like, severe headache, usually located on one side of the head, often accompanied by nausea and/or vomiting.
Then there’s ones where you get a warning, and it usually comes in the form of an aura.
An aura is defined as ‘the distinctive atmosphere or quality that seems to surround and be generated by a person, thing, or place.’
The most common of these is a visual aura, which means that your visual field is disturbed by floaters, flashing lights, or zig-zag patterns, and it can change over the course of minutes to hours. There is a wonderful Excedrin Migraine Experience ad, showing loved ones what it looks like to suffer from a migraine aura. The experience is most powerful to those who suffer it, but is still worth the watch.
Other manifestations of auras can include muscle weakness, coordination trouble, pins and needles, or, as discussed in my own past, aphasia, the dysfunction of speech.
The migraine headache itself usually appears after a preceding aura resolves and can last hours to days, sometimes even weeks. However, the order of events can switch and some people may suffer from an aura without experiencing the migraine itself.
There are, of course, rare versions of migraines, and those can be reviewed on migraine.com.
What are migraines, and why do certain people get them, while others don’t? It used to be believed that migraines were solely neurologic in nature, but new research has found more than 3o genetic risk factors, most of these related to the vascular system.
It’s thought that the pain of a migraine is due to the dilation, or widening, of blood vessels (possibly after a temporary contraction, or squeezing tighter, phase) supplying the brain, causing excitation of the trigeminal nerve, responsible for the sensation of the face and its motor functions.
First are the natural, homeopathic remedies. I cannot comment as to the efficacy of these, as many have not been tested in head to head trials; however, some are worth trying, as tolerated. Here is a slideshow of home remedies, which includes a scalp massage.
As for medication treatment options, there are many. Some are abortive, or taken at the start of an attack. Others are prophylactic, taken to prevent the onset of migraines for people who suffer from too many and having them interfere with their lives. A great, summarized list of treatment options can be found on Mayo Clinic’s site.
A new therapy uses small electrodes and is worn like glasses, and works by micro-stimulation of the trigeminal nerve. It is called cefaly and can be found here.
If you think you suffer from migraine headaches, discuss your symptoms with your primary care doctor so that you can find relief that works best for you.