21 July 2006

Me, myself and migraines

As I woke up with blurry vision and numbness on the one side of my body, I knew that I was going to have another migraine attack.

Blurry visions and numbness on the one side of your body. Having a conversation seems impossible. Even breathing hurts. Not to talk about sneezing, or doing anything else for that matter. Welcome to another day in paradise.

That first time
Women get migraines more often than men do. The average age when women start suffering from migraines is between 25 and 55. Mine started at 15.

Getting migraines at such a young age was definitely a problem and it severely disrupted my life. I didn’t know how to handle it, or what triggered it and thought that it was only a headache.

As my mom and grandmother also suffered from this condition they recognised the symptoms and the family GP confirmed that I was experiencing migraines.

What triggers them?
It helped to know exactly what it was I had at such an early stage in my life. It made it possible for me to adapt to a new lifestyle early on. I also became familiar with the triggers for migraines.

Stress is definitely one of the biggest triggers for me. There are also different kinds of foods that trigger these attacks and I try to steer clear of foods such as chocolate, yellow cheeses, caffeine, alcohol, yeast spreads and coffee.

Migraines sneak up on me when I least expect them. Although some women get migraines during the first three days of menstruation, it is definitely not possible to schedule a migraine. Experience has taught me that a migraine doesn’t just last for hours, but sometimes for days. When it comes to migraines, it is much better to prevent them, than try and cure them.

What does it feel like?
Migraines interrupt my everyday life. They make me feel immobile. I can’t do anything and a day with a migraine is a day that is completely lost, as I am unable to function properly.

Taking medicine does help, but isn’t always the only way to deal with this condition. Sleeping is one of the best medicines. Taking a migraine kit, which can be purchased at any pharmacy, and sleeping are the best cures.

So what is the difference between a headache and a migraine? A headache is very different from a migraine in the way that suffering from a headache doesn’t necessarily interrupt your daily life, while migraines turn your life upside down. You can’t begin to understand what a migraine sufferer is going through when you have not experienced a migraine yourself.

What you can do to prevent migraines

  • Double-check with your gynaecologist whether or not it could be the contraceptive pill that is causing the migraines.
  • Change your diet and steer clear of foods that trigger migraines such as chocolate, yellow cheeses, caffeine, alcohol, yeast spreads, coffee and vitamin C tablets.
  • Get some sleep.
  • Find a way to destress such as meditation, exercise, yoga or whatever works for you.
  • Get your doctor to prescribe something.
  • Lie down in a dark room.
  • Put lights on when watching television in a dark room.
  • Steer clear of flickering lights.

(Talia Schroeder, Health24, July2006)


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Headache expert

Dr Elliot Shevel is a South African migraine surgery pioneer and the founder and medical director of The Headache Clinic in Johannesburg, Durban and Cape Town, South Africa. The Headache Clinic is a multidisciplinary practice dedicated to the diagnosis and treatment of Primary Headaches and Migraines. Dr Shevel is also the main author of all scientific publications generated by his team. He recently won a high level science debate in which he was able to prove that the current migraine diagnosis and classification is not based on data. Tertiary Education - Dr Shevel holds both Dental and Medical degrees, and practises as a specialist Maxillo-facial and Oral Surgeon. Follow the Headache Clinic on Twitter@HeadacheClinic.

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