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National Migraine & Headache Awareness Month

When I was growing up, my mom would have the worst headaches, and the only thing that would help would be going and getting an injection at a local ER. It was incredibly tough for her and challenging to see as her kid. At times, it could feel helpless because a simple aspirin or over-the-counter medication wouldn’t do the trick to alleviate the headache. She was able to isolate her triggers to an extent, and this immensely helped in reducing the frequency of her headaches. Then, when I was 16, I started to get cluster headaches and migraines. Thankfully, they weren’t as debilitating as my mom’s migraines, but they would make it challenging to focus and often result in me spending time in a dark room with a cool rag on my head (a solution that I found worked way better than one would think!). It was far from a fun experience, and it was often hard to communicate exactly what was happening. After some doctor’s appointments and neurologist appointments, I was diagnosed with episodic migraines. Fortunately for me, as I got older, I started having fewer migraines and headaches in general, and these days, when I start to get one, it’s usually because I hadn’t had enough water or eaten in a while, and it’s a minor tension headache. These are scenarios that millions of individuals live with and can make day-to-day life a difficult experience.

June is National Migraine and Headache Awareness Month (#MHAM), a time for communities of people who have migraines or headaches to come together and try to get headache disorders recognized as neurobiological diseases. It’s also a time to encourage those who have headaches or migraines to consult health care professionals and spread awareness on the different treatments that exist. The American Migraine Foundation estimates that at least 39 million Americans live with migraines, and that’s just those who go to the doctor and get diagnosed. In all actuality, it’s probably a higher number. There’s a wide variety of types when it comes to types of headaches, 150 to be exact, and of those the most common are tension headaches, migraines, and cluster headaches. An estimated 47% of adults experience some form of headache each year.

Typical symptoms of headaches include slow onset of a headache, pain on both sides of the head, dull pain that can feel like a band around the head, and pain that can be in the back part of the head or neck. Tension headaches are arguably the most common form of headache and are brought on by stress or muscle tightness and typically do not cause nausea, vomiting, or sensitivity to light. While most headaches have some overlap of symptoms, the thing that sets a migraine apart from other headaches are the symptoms, which according to the Mayo Clinic include:

  • Pain on one side of your head but can also present on both sides of the head.
  • A throbbing or pulsing pain
  • Sensitivity to light, sound, and occasionally smell and touch
  • Nausea and vomiting

Migraines can also progress through four stages: prodrome, aura, attack, and post-drome. Some, none, or all these stages may be present for those who have migraines. The prodrome stage are subtle changes that occur one or two days prior to a migraine and could warn of an upcoming migraine including mood changes, neck stiffness, food cravings, and fluid retention to name a few. The aura stage can occur before or during migraines and gradually build up over periods of many minutes and can last for up to an hour, examples of these are seeing various bright spots and shapes, vision loss, pins and needles sensation in extremities, and vision loss. The attack stage is when the headache portion of the migraine begins and includes the symptoms noted previously. The post-drome stage concludes the migraine and lasts up to a day and is when you typically feel drained and confused.

Migraines also have a wide variety of triggers. Things like what you’re drinking or not drinking in the case of water, stress, sensory stimuli, physical strain, weather changes, food and food additives, and hormonal changes in women are some of the more common ones. In my personal experience mine were typically centered around food, especially processed food and sometimes skipping meals as a teenager. It’s also worth noting sometimes it’s difficult or nearly impossible to completely isolate a trigger; if you find you’re having what you think are migraines or headaches often it may be worth scheduling an appointment with your doctor to come up with a treatment plan and better understand your headaches.

It can feel isolating at times to endure pain from headaches and migraines and it’s very easy to feel like you’re alone in dealing with them. It can be easy to put on a face and tell yourself you’re OK, but it’s important to remember it’s OK to take time for yourself and ensure your community around you understands you need time to recover. A key initiative of National Migraine and Headache Awareness Month is working with local governments and entities to make proclamations to acknowledge the impact of migraines and headaches in our communities and, demonstrate support, and provide resources for those who are affected. When we’re all educated on the impacts of headaches and migraines, it becomes an easier diagnosis to both deal with and treat.