Did you know that migraines occur three times as often in women after reaching maturity, as compared to men? Taylor, a 28-year-old from Old Bridge, New Jersey, is unfortunately part of that statistic and one of the 39 million people who suffer from migraines in the U.S.
Along with sharing Taylor’s personal account of the pain and inconvenience she endures from her disabling headaches, we connected with Regina Krel, M.D., a headache medicine specialist at Hackensack Meridian Neuroscience Institute, to shed some light on how to overcome these sometimes-agonizing episodes.
"Nausea is also one of the symptoms that tends to be ignored – patients will come to me with an appropriate regimen for their migraine, but I will often notice that their complaint of nausea has not been addressed."
Here are five things that only migraine sufferers understand (and some tips for relief).
Harsh lighting and bright areas are torture.
Is it bright in here, or is it just me?
“I get extreme sensitivity to light when a migraine starts,” shares Taylor. “It creates a throbbing pain, making it difficult to keep my eyes open as my head feels like it is going to explode. This is especially difficult since I stare at a screen of spreadsheets and numbers all day at work.”
Light sensitivity is a common symptom of migraine. “It’s actually one of the symptoms that helps reach a migraine diagnosis,” explains Dr. Krel.
“Staying out of the light will help, and whatever medication your doctor prescribes, if you take it early in the headache cycle, your sensitivity to light should subside as well.”
There are also tinted lenses, called FL41, that filter out the blue and red light, as it is the most jarring light to patients, notes Dr. Krel.
You are nauseous so you don’t eat, but not eating makes you more nauseous.
A vicious cycle.
“I get such bad nausea as a result of migraines that it causes me to lose my appetite and be extremely sensitive to smells,” Taylor explains. “Most times I go all day without eating which only worsens my nausea and migraine to the point that my stomach feels like it is eating itself.”
“Some migraine patients will say the associated symptoms, like nausea, are even more debilitating than the headache itself,” says Dr. Krel. “Nausea is also one of the symptoms that tends to be ignored – patients will come to me with an appropriate regimen for their migraine, but I will often notice that their complaint of nausea has not been addressed.”
“If you have nausea, anything you take in, like water and a pill, is likely going to make you more nauseous. I typically prescribe an anti-nausea medication along with something to target the headache pain,” adds Dr. Krel. “Do not ignore your nausea, because, if vomiting ensues, it can lead to dehydration and an imbalance of electrolytes.”
Pounding, throbbing or pulsating pain is nothing new.
Could you turn down the pain? Thanks.
“On occasion I’ll get a throbbing or pulsing pain in my head – the pain is so unbearable at times that it’s all I can focus on, and I can’t pay attention to anything else,” Taylor shares.
“Medications are typically effective for a patient’s pain, but I’m sometimes asked, ‘what can I do that’s non-medication related?’ Some options are rest, ice packs or a cold compress, peppermint oil rubbed on the temples or other homeopathic remedies,” advises Dr. Krel.
Dizziness and vertigo make you uneasy, literally.
“At times, I can also get lightheaded from my migraines – my sight will start to fade in and out of blurry vision. This makes me a bit unsteady, and worries me that if I get up, I might pass out or lose my footing, it’s obviously pretty unnerving,” Taylor laments.
“Dizziness tends to happen in about 50% of migraine patients, but again, if you hit the nail on the head with the prescribed medication, the other symptoms will subside with the headache pain, including vertigo,” says Dr. Krel.
At its worst, you curl up in a dark room with an ice pack.
Hello darkness, my old friend.
“Sometimes I will get a combination of all these symptoms. When this type of migraine storm hits, I usually have to stop everything I’m doing and sleep in a dark room with an ice pack – it’s the only way I seem to alleviate the pain,” reflects Taylor. “I take Excedrin and Tylenol quite a bit and it doesn’t seem to help, which makes me think my body may be somewhat immune to their effects.”
Never having consulted a neurologist about her issues, Dr. Krel notes that Taylor may be suffering from rebound headaches.
“These types of headaches can be more difficult to treat – rebound headaches occur when a patient overuses ‘rescue medication.’ If you are taking Advil all the time, the headache will find a detour, a backway to get in. No matter how much of the medicine you take, the headache won’t go away.”
“If your headaches are not relieved by over-the-counter medications, or you have any neurological red flags you should seek medical attention. These red flags include headaches that wake you up from sleep, focal neurological symptoms such as weakness or numbness, projectile vomiting, positional headaches (pain that significantly worsens or improves if you stand/sit up versus laying down), or thunderclap headaches (headaches that reach their maximum intensity within seconds/minutes–“worst headache of my life”),” recommends Dr. Krel.
The material provided by Hackensack Meridian Health is intended to be used as general information only and should not replace the advice of your physician. Always consult your physician for individual care.