What Everyone Who Suffers From Migraine Should Know

Migraine sufferers, you are not alone. Though there is still no known cure, there are lifestyle changes and preventative treatments that can help. Here’s how to advocate for yourself and increase your quality of life living with migraine.

Abbvie Allergan Main Img 1000x750Photo Credit: Shutterstock

Are you living with chronic migraine?

Migraine is a brain disorder and more than a headache. Other symptoms include nausea, vomiting and hypersensitivity to lights, sounds and smells. The attack can be disabling and derail the whole day. Three million Canadians – 80% of which are women – suffer from migraine. Of those, a whopping 760,000 may suffer them chronically, meaning that for at least 15 days of every month, they live with some degree of head pain that prevents them from work, school, childcare, responsibilities, and socializing. And, often, they feel that there is no hope for relief.

Abbvie Allergan New Img 1000x750Image: Shutterstock

Chronic migraine sufferers, you are not alone.

There’s no known cure for this invisible neurological disease and, worse still, there’s little support. Of chronic migraine patients who seek treatment, only 20% actually receive a diagnosis. This leaves many feeling unheard, unseen and hopeless. But with new research and advancements emerging, there’s reason to see silver linings. Chronic migraine sufferers can take control, find support, and manage symptoms in a way that improves their quality of life. They simply need to take action.

Take action & talk to your doctor.

Step one: Get a diagnosis. Help your doctor understand what’s going on by describing the pattern of pain (their frequency, how and when they start), trigger factors (conditions aligned with their onset, conditions that make it worse), symptoms (sensitivity to light? stiff neck?), and treatments and alternative therapies you’ve tried (what helps? what hurts?). Be prepared to discuss other factors, such as health problems, mood disorders and lifestyle choices in terms of alcohol, caffeine and tobacco consumption. Chronic migraine may be difficult to diagnose, but MyChronicMigraine.ca has lots of tools to help. Take their ID-CM Screener, an online tool to help identify chronic migraine.

Abbvie Allergan Img3 1000x750Photo Credit: Shutterstock

Monitor your symptoms.

Pain can be difficult to remember after it’s dissipated, so make a habit of logging your headaches, so the details don’t fog with time. This empowers you to, over time, identify patterns of onset, increase in frequency, intensification of symptoms and more. It also arms you with facts and details that will help your doctor diagnose treatment plans. An app like the Canadian Migraine Tracker might help. Designed with insight from doctors and patients alike, it’s simple to navigate and share with your doctor. Migraine is invisible on an MRI, but very visible on a headache diary, and any person with migraine should use one.

Abbvie Allergan Img4 1000x750Photo Credit: Shutterstock

Explore treatments beyond painkillers.

Often simple over-the-counter painkillers, such as ibuprofen and acetaminophen, may fail to treat attacks. Triptans should be considered and discussed with a health care provider. If your migraine’s intensity and frequency build even still, sufferers might consider preventative options. Unfortunately, there is no tried-and-true answer that works for everyone, so with the right doctor and a bit of patience, you can explore preventative treatment options that could incite an improvement of up to 50 to 75%. Possible preventives include anti-hypertensive drugs, anti-depressants, anti-seizure medications, vitamin supplements, CGRP antibodies and even Botox! You can read about how and why they work on MigraineCanada.org. “Preventive treatments are used to decrease migraine frequency, intensity, and improve your ability to function,” says Dr. Elizabeth Leroux, a neurologist who specializes in headaches and chronic migraine. “There is no magic bullet, but many effective options are available.”

Abbvie Allergan Img5 1000x750Photo Credit: Shutterstock

Consider your lifestyle triggers.

Sometimes, chronic migraine can be improved by making healthy lifestyle changes to reduce headache triggers. These include losing weight (if you’re overweight), exercising, managing energy levels, using relaxation techniques, adopting a healthy diet, staying well hydrated and treating mood disorders or sleep problems. Talk to your doctor about changes you should make.

Abbvie Allergan Img6 1000x750Photo Credit: Shutterstock

Most importantly, be your own advocate.

Chronic migraine sufferers, we understand that you feel isolated in your pain, but you are not alone in your struggle. Support is available. There are websites and online communities where people can learn and discuss (Migraine Canada, Migraine Quebec, My Chronic Migraine and Canadian Migraine Society are just a few). There are podcasts that might make you feel better understood (Heads Up is a popular one and Migraine Canada just launched Migraine Talks). There are also chronic pain and migraine clinics throughout the country. “Care for migraine is improving,” says Dr. Leroux. “Patient communities are building up, speaking up and offering support. Access to a physician may not be easy, but don’t give up, as finding the right mix of treatments may be life-changing.”

Best Health Canada
Originally Published in Best Health Canada