National Migraine Awareness Month

The National Headache Foundation (NHF) has designated June as National Migraine Awareness Month. Migraines affect at least 30 million Americans, yet they are under-recognized within the community.

I confess to not really knowing much about migraines until about 10 years ago. Until then, I didn’t really know the difference between a headache and a migraine. Seriously, I thought a migraine was just a really bad headache. Not true at all. In fact, the mechanisms behind headache and migraine are quite different.

Imagine my own surprise when, 10 years ago, I learned that I had been experiencing migraines since I was 16, perhaps younger. I know it now because I can tell, within my own body, the difference between a migraine and a headache.

Migraine diagnosis is difficult. There’s no definitive test. And there’s no clearly defined symptoms. Here are migraine characteristics as listed by NHF:

  • Pain typically on one side of the head
  • Pain has a pulsating or throbbing quality
  • Moderate to intense pain affecting daily activities
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Sensitivity to light or sound
  • Attacks last four to 72 hours, sometimes longer
  • Visual disturbances or aura
  • Exertion such as climbing stairs makes headache worse

A person need not experience all of those characteristics to have migraines. This can make diagnosis more difficult and also make it more difficult for others to understand. In fact, only 20% of migraineurs experience visual disturbances or aura. Myself? My migraines aren’t specifically one-sided, are rarely throbbing, and typically don’t come with aura.

What can you do to help yourself if you have migraines? Here are some suggestions:

  1. See your doctor. There can be life-threatening causes of migraine that you want to be sure & rule out.
  2. Know what triggers your migraines. This was critical for me in controlling my migraines. Until I knew and eliminated all triggers, no medication would help in either prevention or treatment. There are many, many possible triggers including:
    • Certain foods – they vary by person so it’s important to determine if there are foods that trigger your migraines.
    • Fragrances and chemicals in the environment
    • Barometric pressure
    • Fatigue
    • Stress & anxiety
    • Hormones
  3. Don’t skip meals as this can also trigger a migraine
  4. Get a good night’s sleep every night.
  5. Avoid bright lights & bright sunshine. Sunglasses can help.
  6. Avoid fluorescent lights and monitors that flicker.
  7. Trust your instincts. There’s so much that is not known about migraines and how they’re triggered. Only you know for certain what is triggering yours.

Think your migraines could be food, fragrance or chemical related? My migraines are triggered by a combination of foods, fragrances and chemicals. By avoiding triggers, I am migraine free most of the time. I would love to connect and help you figure out your migraine triggers. Let’s connect via my contact page.

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I'm now an author and publisher. I write a blog over at BarbaraMcNeely.com. And I have a book published - “Lessons of an Opening Heart."
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