Tuesday, January 27, 2009


One of the reasons I started this blog was to talk about my health. I realized yesterday that I have neglected to mention my most prominent health issue. I am a migraineur. Which is the official term for "migraine sufferer". I haven't thought to mention the migraines because condition is always lurking in the background of my life. It's such a part of me that I rarely even think of it as a health issue.

In my mind, it's no different from hair color except, of course, for the pain.

If you're unfamiliar with migraines (I sure wish I was) or if you think that they are "just headaches", please read this post from medical-blogging rock star Steve Novella. It is an excellent introduction to the phenomenon. I learned some new things from it.

As far as my migraines go, I think I'm about mid-range on the severity/frequency index. I average two to three migraines a month but they are rarely bad enough to keep me from doing what I want to do. I used to be laid up far more often by the attacks but I think I've built up a tolerance to them because they don't feel any better than they used to. I've realized that very little that I do during the course of a day is going to have an effect on them for good or ill and that I'd might as well get on with my life.

Some migraines, maybe one a year, will make me so sick that I relate to what Joan Didion said in her excellent essay "In Bed",

“That no one dies of migraine seems, to someone deep into an attack, an ambiguous blessing."

Those migraines are the bad ones. I have become intimately familiar with my migraines. If I'm going to have one, I generally wake up with it. There are things I can observe about them to determine whether it's there to stay or if I can try to chase it off. I'm not sure I can articulate the checklist I go through to make this decision because it's more intuitive than clinical but I'll try.

The first thing I look for is how much the right side of my head hurts upon waking. Migraines typically present only on one side of the head and mine are always on the right. Then I check the rest of my body. If all my nerve endings are more sensitive, I know it's going to be with me until I can sleep again. If I am more sensitive to light and sound, ditto. If it's just the headache and it's not making me wish I were dead, I have a chance to beat it back with a combination of drugs and a long, hot shower.

If I'm sick to my stomach, I know I need to call in sick. I almost never experience nausea with my migraines and the few times I have were the worst experiences I've ever had.

Compared to a lot of other migraineurs, I'm lucky in a lot of ways. I remain functional (if a bit scatterbrained) during most attacks, they rarely last more than a full day, I can hold most of them back with Excedrin, and they don't make me throw up.

This still doesn't make them feel any better.

The most frustrating thing about being a migraine sufferer is that the treatment for the condition is so personal. What works for one person makes another one feel worse. Hell, what works for me on one day might send me into a dark, quiet room during my next attack.

Migraineurs talk about triggers a lot. These are the things that can cause an attack. Lists of common triggers are always funny to read because they usually list "too much sleep" right under "too little sleep". Great. I can't freaking win. I have discovered a few of my triggers but it's almost never a single thing. I usually have to combine two or more of the following: Insufficient sleep, getting cold while asleep, and any number of possible food triggers.

There seems to be a genetic component to them because I have a cousin and a half sister who get them, too.

Are there any other migraneurs reading this? Or people with relatives and friends who get them? Feel free to comment if so.

And, yes, I'm having one right now.



Perky Skeptic said...

This makes me just want to hug and cuddle you. :( I wish there were anything I could do to help!

Vaklam said...

Hugs and cuddles are a good start.

Joy said...

How old were you when you started having them? I wish you could find something that helps. Amy said she has a cocktail of meds that help her a lot.

It makes me want to hug my cub and make it go away.

Paul said...

Hi Brian, I'm new to your blog but a long time migraineur. Like you, I get 2 or 3 debilitating migranes per month, but I also get 2 or 3 optic migranes per month where I lose about 50% of my vision in either or both eyes.

I have been getting migranes for about 40 years now, and it was just in the last five years that I discovered Maxalt to treat them. You may want to look into getting a prescription.

I'm certain migranes are indeed genetic, my mother had them as did my grandmother. My triggers are a little weird, a change in atmospheric pressure will kick one off as will too much sleep or not eating on a regular schedule. I know when one is coming on, light is painful and all sound hurts. It's hard for non-migraineurs to understand but fortunately for me everyone close to me are aware of what I go through and are very understanding.