Nausea, sensitivity to movement and light, brain fog, throbbing headaches – these are just some of the symptoms associated with migraine, a painful neurological disorder often likened to a power cut in the body.
Although up to 15% of Irish people suffer from this disease, it is often a disease that is ruled out, with some people with migraines feeling embarrassed about not being able to function because of a ‘headache’.
However, for those affected, the onset of a migraine is more than just a headache.
“I get hit two or three times a year and when that happens it can go on for days,” says TV presenter Anna Daly.
“The only reason I found out I had a migraine was because a few years ago I was driving to work and had a headache that had lasted for days. My husband kept asking me if this was continuing and I was almost embarrassed to say it, which seems so ridiculous now. I had been taking a lot of pain killers but as I was heading to Ireland AM that day I turned around and drove to Loughlinstown hospital because I was very worried. They sent me in an ambulance to St Vincent Hospital and I finally got a diagnosis.
Daly was in his early 40s at the time and didn’t know his frequent headaches were migraines. “I’ve had them all my life, but I always attribute them to things like lack of sleep or hangovers. I just never made the connection, ”she says.
“The headache usually makes me feel nauseous, and then I quit. I really can’t function properly when I get one. It starts with a normal headache but eventually I will lie down with my head in my hands, which was the day I went to the hospital. Fortunately, I haven’t had an episode like this since because I have the right medication now.
The mother-of-three couldn’t determine what triggered her migraines, but her doctors now believe they are hormonal. It’s a topic she brings up in a new podcast, Beyond migraine, launched earlier this month by the Migraine Association of Ireland.
“While working on a breakfast show, I tended to not eat for hours on end and also drank too much coffee, which doctors pointed out as possible triggers. My migraines are also linked to my hormones, so I need to watch my menstrual cycle. The pregnancy was also very difficult for me, ”says Daly.
“As with everything in life, it is about doing research, taking ownership and arming yourself with the right medicine. I would recommend anyone wondering if they have a migraine to really look into it.
Neuroscientist and author Sabina Higgins, who is also on the podcast, says the inability to function is a common side effect of migraines.
“A migraine is a dysfunction of your brain. People may have difficulty concentrating, finding their words, or they may have difficulty making decisions. Migraine is one of the most debilitating neurological conditions in the world, ”she says.
“People tend to think of it as just a bad headache and what really doesn’t help is when people use the word migraine to describe a hangover or headache. voltage. It really minimizes the condition for those who have it.
Brennan suffers from chronic migraine, which is just one type of illness. “Migraines take so many forms. Some people may have episodic migraines, where they will have episodes maybe once or twice a month. Others, like me, may have chronic daily migraines, where they suffer for more than 15 days a month. I almost always have a headache, but I don’t always have to go to bed with it, ”she says.
“Once a month, I will have a few really bad days and I will just have a general feeling of being unwell. Sometimes I will have visual distortions and I will not be able to see properly or I may feel a little nauseous. The main thing will be that I feel incredibly tired. I just can’t function when this happens, I really can’t work.
Scientists don’t know exactly what causes migraines, but according to the Migraine Association of Ireland, around 60% of cases are hereditary. The disease can affect any age group, with some children as young as 12 months showing symptoms. Women are also three times more likely to be affected due to hormonal changes.
“Hormones play an essential role. A lot of women have very bad migraines just before or during their period, which suggests that estrogen deprivation could be to blame, ”says Brennan.
“Stress is the most common trigger. It’s not that people with migraines can’t cope with stress, it’s just that something in the stress response seems to trigger the activity in the brain that causes a migraine.
“Symptoms can also be triggered by sensory stimuli such as light. However, the same type of light may not always trigger you. For example, some days I can use the lights on my dresser to do my makeup, but other days I can’t. Smell is another trigger for some – detergents, deodorants, perfumes. I once sat on a flight next to a woman who wore heavy perfume and was in agony for hours.
It is estimated that the average migraine sufferer misses between one and a half and four and a half days of work per year, resulting in a loss of € 252 million each year for Irish businesses. While there isn’t much you can do in terms of lost productivity, Brennan has a few tips for those who are stricken with a migraine on a work day.
“I try to have a list of ‘brainless’ jobs that I can do when I’m not doing well. Maybe it just helps to try and tackle things that are more routine and that you don’t really have to think about, ”she says.
“Many of us who suffer have to adapt to migraines and often migraine sufferers adjust our lifestyle to try to function successfully.”
One of those people learning to adapt is former Miss Ireland and new mom Aoife Walsh, who has a family history of migraine. “I often had headaches, but I always attributed them to travel because I went to New York a lot. My sleep pattern was ubiquitous, ”she says.
“I remember the first time I had a really bad one. I was in Dublin and it was the middle of the night and I couldn’t sleep because my body clock was off. I was suddenly struck by this excruciating pain in my head. It was unlike anything I had known before. I was so alarmed, I was really so scared. My best friend is a nurse, so I texted her to see if I should go to A&E and she explained to me that it was probably a headache.
Walsh went to her GP after the episode and has since learned that her migraines are related to her sleep pattern, so she tried adjusting her schedule to make sure she got enough rest at night.
“If I don’t sleep properly, I’ll wake up with a headache. So I had to learn to deal with this because in the afternoon these headaches kept increasing until I had a full-blown migraine and it would completely disrupt my day. I had to go back to bed and everything I had to do that day should be put on hold. It really affected my life, ”says Walsh.
However, getting enough sleep can be difficult with a newborn baby at home. Walsh gave birth to daughter Penny in July, disrupting the 32-year-old’s schedule. However, she tries to get as much rest as possible to prevent a migraine from taking over her day.
“Your routine can be really disrupted when you have a baby, as it can in so many other ways, but that’s why it’s so important to have access to the information available that can help you. My GP recommended that I create a sleep and food diary and I found it very useful. Going forward, I just need to keep the triggers that I know I have in mind. It’s really important to be in harmony with your body.
Neuroscientist Sabina Higgins shares her top tips for relieving migraine:
Exercise: “Exercise brings more oxygen to the brain and helps relieve stress, which is the most common migraine trigger.”
Stick to a schedule: “The brain feeds on regularity. It depends on the nutrients we take in. If we deprive him by having irregular meals or sleeping at different times, he will not know when he has energy and this can lead to a migraine.
Spend time outdoors: “Stuffy spaces can also trigger a migraine, so try going out for a walk or sitting outside if you feel one coming.”
Keep a diary: “A journal is great because it can help you identify triggers that you don’t know you have. “
To sleep: “Good quality sleep, as well as the right amount of sleep, is essential for brain health. “