Ah, the sweet smell of fragrance. Who doesn’t love them? Me. I’ve gotten migraines from fragrances since I was 16. It started with just one perfume but the list grew. As more and more of them were added to the list, I began to suspect that there was something common to all of them that triggered my migraines. Today, I avoid fragrances, perfumes, and any product that might contain them. You might too, if you knew what I know.
Recently, I talked about the role of hormones in migraines, today I’ll be discussing another controversial migraine trigger – stress. The International Headache Society (IHS) removed stress from its trigger list. While it recognizes that stress can make us more susceptible to triggers, perhaps by lowering our threshold, they now say that stress does not cause migraines.
Perhaps you’re aware that women have significantly more migraines than men. Which explains why so many migraines are blamed on female hormones, in general, and estrogen, in particular. Sadly, many doctors will dismiss a woman’s migraines as being caused by their hormones, suggesting that there really isn’t much to be done for them. Thankfully, this isn’t always true.
When I was experiencing chronic migraines, I was doing everything wrong. I didn’t know it at the time, or I could have changed things and perhaps had a better experience. One thing I did wrong was not taking migraine medication at the onset of the migraine. I wasn’t that fond of taking it, and it was pricey, so I would postpone taking it until I was positive I had a migraine. I later learned that they were most effective when taken at the first sign of a migraine. Why hadn’t anyone told me? The other thing I was doing wrong was taking too much medication – although who could blame me? When you have a migraine every day, you want them to just go away. It turns out that too much medication resulted in what was once referred to as “rebound headaches” but is now called “medication overuse headaches.”
What is the Migraine Manifesto? More on that in a minute. First some backstory: I’ve had migraines for most of my life. I used to say that I had my first one at 16. Yet, the more I think about it, the more I realize that it wasn’t my first one. I’m not sure exactly when I had the first one but I know of two things that I have always associated with migraines and head pain. Those things are walnuts and museums.
I’ve spent a lot of my time over the past decade or so learning what a migraine is, what a migraine attack is, and what migraine triggers are. All things I didn’t even know I needed to know at the turn of the century! But knowing what was going on was never enough for me. Knowing I had chronic migraines was one thing, but I had another question: Why? Why after forty-plus years did I suddenly have to deal with round-the-clock head pain?
Last week, I provided an overall definition of migraine, based upon current research. Today we’ll be talking about the phases of a migraine attack. A migraine attack is the entire episodic event known as a migraine event.
The term migraine is thrown about a lot, often without much knowledge about what the term really means. Sometimes people use it to mean a really bad headache. I confess that I didn’t know much about migraines until 2002 when I was trying to cope with chronic migraines. Back then, there wasn’t a day that went by that I didn’t experience a migraine. In retrospect, I now believe that I’ve had migraines since I was a child, pre-puberty, even though I didn’t know to call them migraines. I’ve tried to define migraine in the past: first on my first health-related blog Breathe Free and then just last summer on this blog.