They are painful and disabling. They knock you down and keep you down sometimes for several days or more. But strangely we don’t really know that much about them. The World Health Organisation says that migraines are globally under-diagnosed, under-treated and poorly managed.
Ok, so we don’t manage our headaches very well. But who can blame us?
How are we supposed to get all the information or resources we need from our GP, MD or Doctor in a brief 15-30 min consultation? Half the problem is getting the right facts on migraines. Which is not easy when there are so many different theories about how and why migraines occur.
To help give you the facts here are your must-know top 10 migraine facts to help you improve your migraine condition.
10 Must-know migraine facts
1) Nobody knows for sure exactly what causes a migraine
Most scientists acknowledge that there is a genetic link between migraines i.e. if one of your parents or grandparents suffered migraines, you are more likely to get them. But we don’t know exactly how migraines work and why they occur – the pathology of the condition.1 Anyone who claims otherwise is speculating, misleading and wrong.
2) There is no universal cure for a migraine (yet)
This doesn’t mean it is impossible to stop getting migraines. This happens all the time (I’m still extremely jealous). But there are people I’ve met who stop eating a certain food for example and experience a dramatic improvement in their migraine condition or complete relief from migraines. But a clinical cure that works for everyone to stop migraines from ever occurring again does not exist2 ….*sigh*. But when it is invented, I will be the first to let you know!
3) 50% of migraine sufferers don’t know they get them
This estimate is consistently made by migraine organisations around the world.3 More than half the people who get migraines, don’t know they get them. Personally I am not sure how you could not differentiate between a metal vice grip and a dull tension headache. But it speaks to the lack of transparent information and access of resources. We’re here to help with that!
4) There are 3 relatively simple criteria you use to check if you have migraines or not
If you’re not sure whether you’re getting migraines or not, then this is important. This is the International Headache Society4 criteria for headache classification:
a. You need at least 2 of the following.
- moderate to severe pain
- one sided in the head
- pulsing/throbbing headache
- made worse by movement
b. If there is at least one of the following:
- nausea or vomiting
- sensitivity to light and sound
c. If it lasts 4-72 hrs if you don’t treat it.
If you meet this criteria then there is a good chance you have migraines, but always check with your GP as you want to rule out any other potentially more serious conditions or complications.
5) 1000 mg of Aspirin provides relief for 50% of migraine sufferers
Clinical studies show that the max dose of aspirin (1000mg) provides relief for around 50% of migraine sufferers. An expert committee to the World Health Organisation5 recommend aspirin as the first option for migraine patients.
6) Migraines are around 3x as common in women than in men
There is no sex equality when it comes to migraines. Why more women than men? It is thought that hormonal changes during menstruation is a significant trigger for many women.6 Menstruation is not a potential migraine trigger for men.
7) Migraines are most common at the age of 35-45
Across the population of migraine sufferers, migraines become more frequent until the ages of 35 to 45.7 After this point they begin to decline. Since migraine management is not fantastic, it is not surprising that most people have to wait until the migraines eventually burn themselves out to see improvements rather proactively manage them.
8) Medication over-use is a problem for migraine sufferers
Medication overuse occurs when you are taking medicine too often for your headaches or migraines. It is also referred to as a medication-induced headache or rebound headache. It is not pleasant and there is no easy way out. If you are taking anti-inflammatory painkillers for 15 or more days a month you are at risk. If you are taking stronger drugs like Triptans for 10 days or more a month then you are also at risk.8 Watch out for this as it can lead to chronic daily headaches.
9) Stress is one of the most common migraine triggers
Migraine triggers are what cause your migraine attack. One of the most common of these is stress.9 But this isn’t just stress from a busy day at work. It could be the stress of running late to dinner, anxiety about an upcoming event, strong emotions or just too much happening all at once.
10) Migraines can be managed
It is not impossible to mange your migraines. It is important to remain hopeful about your condition. I personally spent years going to different specialists and spent a lot of money on external help when the solution came from managing my triggers through the use of my migraine diary. I uncovered my key migraine triggers and simply managed my triggers better. For example Sleep and Stress are two big triggers for me. So now I make a conscious effort to meditate and get a good night sleep everyday. Because of that my migraines dropped significantly in frequency.
Getting the facts helps you better understand and improve your migraine condition.
These 10 facts are just the tip of the iceberg, but hopefully they are a start to improving your condition. Any other tips you have for other migraineurs out there?
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- Robbins MS, Lipton RB. The epidemiology of primary headache disorders. April 2010.
Gilmore B, Michael M. Treatment of acute migraine headache. American Family Physician. Feb, 2011.
World Health Organisation & Lifting the Burden. ATLAS of Headache Disorders And Resources in the World 2011. 2011
International Headache Society ICHD – II: Diagnostic criteria for Migraine.
World Health Organisation, 17th Expert Committee on the Selection and Use of Essential Medicines. Geneva, Mar 2009.
Alexander, L. Migraine – ‘A Common And Distressing Disorder’. headacheaustralia.org.au/headache-types/17-migraine-a-common-and-distressing-disorder.
Bartleson JD, Cutrer FM. Migraine update. Diagnosis and treatment. Minn Med. May 2010.
Kenny, T. Medication Overuse Headache. http://www.patient.co.uk/health/medication-overuse-headache. Nov, 2012.
MAYO Clinic. Migraine Causes. http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/migraine-headache/DS00120/DSECTION=causes. Accessed July 2013.