Fact or Fiction. That is the big question when it comes to migraine. Migraine is so prevalent and misunderstood. It can be overwhelming to try to understand your symptoms and the conflicting information out there.
Here are 35 truths that you need to know.
Fact #1 – Migraine is not just a headache. It’s a disease.
Migraine is a complex neurological condition. It involves a constellation of symptoms that extends far beyond a headache. Migraine affects the body, the mind, and the spirit.
Simply put, migraine can be described as both a condition and a disease.
Fact #2 – Migraine is more common than diabetes, asthma, and epilepsy combined.
Migraine is the third most prevalent illness in the world. According to the Migraine Research Foundation, it ranks 6th in the world for incapacitating illnesses. 12% of the population, including children, experiences migraine.
Fact #3 – Women are more affected.
Women experience migraines more often than men. In the US, 18% of women experience migraines compared to just 6% of men. This may likely account for fluctuating hormone levels such as estrogen.
Fact #4 – Children and even babies can have a migraine.
Most people affected with migraine are between the ages of 25-55, but children can be affected too. Studies suggest a link between infant colic and migraine in childhood. Mothers who experience migraine are more likely to have a baby with colic. Babies with colic will more than likely develop migraine as children.
Early warning signs of migraine seen in 4 month old babies up to preschool children are decreased appetite, fussiness, and head tilt. Older children may experience dizziness, car sickness, vertigo, and the feeling of moving when sitting still or standing.
Fact #5 – Migraine attacks start with a warning.
The prodrome phase is the first of four phases of a migraine attack, which can last from several hours to days before the pain begins. During the prodrome phase, the most common symptoms include feeling extra grumpy or yawning, which indicates that an attack is on its way.
Fact #6 – 1 in 4 people with migraine experience aura.
People with migraine experience aura, which is a set of symptoms that may be felt at the onset of a headache. One example of migraine aura is temporary blindness or “kaleidoscope vision.”
Fact #7 – Most people experience a migraine hangover.
After the headache phase comes the final phase called the postdrome phase, wherein up to 80% of people experience a migraine hangover. Symptoms include headache, fatigue, and difficulty concentrating, which lasts hours to days.
Fact #8 – There are strong factors associated with migraine turning chronic.
Factors that increase the chance of episodic migraine turning chronic include frequency of headaches, depression, and medication overuse.
Fact #9 – Migraine runs in families.
Migraine is often genetic. Approximately 80% of those who experience migraine have a close family member who also has it. Moreover, if a parent has migraine, there is a 50% chance that offspring will be affected also.
Recent studies suggest that migraine is caused by abnormalities in certain genes, which may change the way the body regulates electrical impulses.
Much more research needs to be performed before we have a better understanding of the genetics of migraine.
It is also important to remember that simply having a gene which predisposes you to migraine does not necessarily mean that you will develop migraines. There are other factors involved (both internal and external) which may trigger symptoms. The study of these factors which can turn gene expression on and off is called epigenetics.
Fact #10 – Estrogen may play a role in migraine in both men and women.
Recent studies suggest that estrogen levels may be associated with migraine in both women and men. Women may get “menstrual migraines”, believed to be triggered by sudden changes in estrogen levels during their cycle.
Research suggests that men with migraine displayed higher levels of estrogen and had symptoms of low testosterone levels, such as sexual disorders and mood changes.
Fact #11 – 9 out of 10 people are unable to function normally during a migraine attack.
More than 90% of people cannot function as they normally would when experiencing a migraine attack.
Not only can the headache component of migraine be debilitating, but many other symptoms can also interfere with normal life such as:
- migraine aura
- light sensitivity
- sound sensitivity
- balance issues
- as well as many other symptoms which are manifestations of migraine
Fact #12 – Migraine is disabling.
Migraine can be both an acute and chronic disease.
Over 4 million people in the U.S. have chronic migraine. Chronic migraine accounts for a high rate of disability for those with migraine.
In the U.S., almost 1.2 million emergency room visits yearly account for acute migraine attacks.
Many migraine sufferers have daily symptoms with superimposed acute attacks.
Fact #13 – Migraine comes with over 40 symptoms.
Migraine symptoms vary from person to person. Typically, symptoms vary depending on the migraine phase (prodrome, aura, headache phase, postdrome).
The most common symptoms experienced during a migraine are as follows:
- mood changes
- neck pain/stiffness
- visual or other sensory aura
- food cravings
- excessive thirst
- excessive urination
- numbness and tingling in the face or limbs
- visual changes (blurry vision or loss of vision)
- difficulty speaking
- muscle jerking
- head pain
- head throbbing or pulsing
- taste changes
- light, smell, touch, or sound sensitivity.
Fact #14 – Alice in Wonderland is associated with a strange migraine symptom.
During the aura phase, there is a rare symptom experienced by a small number of people with migraine called Alice in Wonderland Syndrome (AIWS).
Alice in Wonderland Syndrome is characterized by vision changes, the sensation of being in a fixed position with moving surroundings, feeling as though one’s surroundings are shrinking or growing, feeling physically larger or smaller compared to normal surroundings.
Watch this video to learn more.
Fact #15 – Migraine is typically misdiagnosed.
Because migraine comes in over 40 different symptoms, it may sometimes be difficult to get the right diagnosis. It is not uncommon for patients to miss out on proper treatment and relief.
There are specific criteria for the diagnosis of migraine, but if you have any of the following associated with unilateral headaches, it is quite likely that it could be migraine:
- light sensitivity
- sound sensitivity
- a disturbance in your vision
Fact #16 – Migraine can come without a headache.
Vestibular migraine is a type of migraine that is not always accompanied with a headache, making it difficult to diagnose correctly.
The symptoms for vestibular migraine are dizziness, nausea, vertigo, and vomiting.
Many patients with vestibular migraine often see many doctors and providers before they are properly diagnosed.
Fact #17 – Migraine aura can come without a headache.
Sometimes, people experience aura symptoms without a headache. Other times, people experience aura followed by head pain.
Disturbances in vision such as flashing lights in a zig-zag pattern are the most common type of aura.
Fact #18 – Chocolate is not a migraine trigger.
Migraine sufferers often have triggers that bring on an attack. Some of them are related to food. Chocolate is known to be a migraine food trigger, but there is no scientific evidence to support this claim. However, if you think chocolate may be a trigger for you, then be sure to avoid it.
Fact #19 – Some migraine food triggers may actually be cravings.
Food cravings are one of the early warning signs of an attack. This may be one of the reasons that many people consider chocolate as a trigger, when in fact, early in the attack, they are craving chocolate.
Fact #20 – Migraine strikes when lightning strikes.
According to a study in 2013, the risk of developing a headache increases by 31% when lightning strikes within 25 miles of your home. The risk of getting a migraine attack also goes up by 28%.
Fact #21 – Migraine affects mental health.
People with migraine are 2-5 times more likely to suffer from depression and/or anxiety. It is important to address these issues with your headache doctor and maybe seek out a mental health professional.
Fact #22 – IBS is associated with Migraine.
A digestive tract condition, IBS, or irritable bowel syndrome causes symptoms of diarrhea, abdominal bloating, constipation, and other digestive issues. According to research, 60% of those experiencing IBS also have migraine.
Fact #23 – The risk of developing heart disease is 42% higher among men with migraine.
Those who experience aura along with their migraine attacks have a higher risk for developing heart disease. That risk increases by 42% among men with migraine.
If you have migraine and are male, make sure to see your primary care provider to be screened to keep your heart healthy!
Fact #24 – Migraine may protect against a common disease. Can you guess which one?
Though migraine has been associated with several other disorders, it may actually protect against a common one- diabetes! According to a study in France, there is a lower risk of type 2 diabetes for women who suffer from migraine. The study also found that women experienced less migraine activity prior to a diabetes diagnosis.
Though there is no definite explanation for why migraine may be protective, it may have to do with blood sugar regulation. Much more research needs to be done to find out the connection.
Fact #25 – Migraine has a massive impact.
This disease takes a toll on individuals, families, and the community as a whole. Research studies reveal the measurable impact of migraine and can be worse for those with chronic versus episodic attacks.
Fact #26 – Migraine is expensive.
In the US yearly, 157 million missed workdays account for migraine attacks. Annually, healthcare costs related to migraine are estimated to be around $36 billion, which is extremely high compared to other diseases.
Fact #27 – Many employers feel that migraine is not a valid excuse for missing work.
Due to the negative stigma associated with migraine, migraine sufferers often won’t inform their bosses of the true reason for calling out.
If migraine symptoms are interfering with your ability to function at work as well as with other responsibilities at home or at school, it is important to seek help. Speak with your doctor and request accommodations.
Fact #28 – Migraine has an impact on relationships.
This disease takes a toll on relationships. According to a 2014 study:
73% felt they would be better partners if they didn’t have headaches.
64% felt their headaches made their partners’ lives difficult.
59% felt they would be better parents if they didn’t have headaches.
57% felt headaches made their children’s lives harder.
20% of the participants of this study missed vacations due to headaches.
Fact #29 – 50% of people are misdiagnosed.
This condition is undertreated and underdiagnosed. More than half of migraine sufferers never get the right diagnosis.
Fact #30 – In the US, there is only 1 headache specialist per 78,000 migraine sufferers.
Only about 12% of migraine sufferers actually receive treatment, because there are only about 500 certified headache specialists in the US to treat 39 million people who have migraine. Luckily, there are many other providers who can help diagnose and treat migraine, including primary care providers, general neurologists, and neuro-ophthalmologists.
Make sure to find a provider who has a lot of experience with the various treatment options for migraine.
Fact #31 – There is not enough funding for migraine research.
Although migraine is a much more common disease compared to high-profile diseases such as Parkinson’s, there is much more limited funding for migraine research. According to a 2017 study, NIH funding was about only $0.50 per person with the disease.
Find out more. Click HERE.
Fact #32 – Important Figures with Migraine- Great Leaders, Thinkers, and Innovators
No one is immune to migraine. There have been many important figures throughout history who have been plagued by migraine- Julius Caesar, Napoleon, Thomas Jefferson, Anne Frank, Eleanor Roosevelt, Virginia Woolf, and JFK- to name a few.
The next time you’re struggling with migraine and are feeling isolated, keep in mind how many brilliant, creative, and influential people throughout history have dealt with similar health challenges. Migraine does not, and should not, hold you back from living a full and wonderful life.
Here’s an interesting article about the Top 10 Important People throughout History with Migraine.
Fact #33 – Migraine does not discriminate.
Celebrities Have Migraine Too…
Many celebrities are migraine warriors – Ben Affleck, Lisa Kudrow, Janet Jackson, Kristin Chenoweth, and Terrell Davis- to name a few.
Fact #34 – Non-invasive devices are now an option for treatment.
A new development in pain relief called neuromodulation uses magnetic or electrical impulses to decrease brain activity associated with a migraine attack.
Four portable devices currently approved by the FDA are:
- Transcutaneous Supraorbital NeuroStimulator (the Cefaly device)
- Single-pulse transcranial magnetic stimulator (SpringTMS or sTMS)
- Non-invasive vagal nerve stimulator (nVNS)(gammaCore)
- Remote electrical neuromodulation (Nerivio Migra)
To learn more, click HERE.
Fact #35 – Natural Treatments
There is hope for this painful disease. Though there are many pharmaceutical options for treating migraine on the market, many of these drugs have unwanted side effects or are quite costly.
Instead, there are a host of natural therapies which I’ve found useful- not only for myself, but also for hundreds of my patients.
From supplements to essential oils to tinted lenses and screen filter apps for light sensitivity, there are many non-prescription options which can help decrease the frequency and severity of headaches. You can find many of these listed on my website under Migraine Resources. Click HERE.
*Adapted from MigraineAgain.com