Updated: Oct 3, 2019
What is migraine?
Seems like a simple question to answer right? Unfortunately, it’s not so
Before we begin, take a second to imagine what migraine is…. You probably thought of
something quite similar to a hangover, right? Throbbing head, nausea and maybe even a
vampire like hatred for light. That is the case for some sufferers, but it can be much more
Migraine is a complex neurological disorder that can affect all parts of your body from your
eyes, your skin right down to your toes. That being said, it is not a crazy full body experience
for every migraineur.
Migraine is kind of a ‘catch all term’, inside of that you have terms like ‘episodic’, ‘chronic’,
‘aura’, ‘hemiplegic migraine’, ‘ocular migraine’, ‘abdominal migraine’, ‘silent migraine’,
‘vestibular migraine’ the list goes on and on and on. These all just refer to how your migraine
One type that I think is particularly important to learn about is abdominal migraine. This can
cause intense pain, throbbing, cramping, nausea and gastric unease. This type of migraine is commonly the first type experienced by young migraineurs as their nervous system isn’t fully developed [so it presents in the tummy as opposed to the head]. Abdominal migraines don’t commonly have a ‘head pain’ aspect attached, but, as with all types of migraines, these can come alone or as package deals [eg. abdominal and ocular migraine together].
Stages of migraine:
So, I should probably explain the ‘stages of a migraine’. This is not a hard and fast rule, but is generally accepted, especially in episodic sufferers. Migraineurs like me who have chronic
daily migraine often don’t identify with these stages as we cannot differentiate stage from
stage as there is no beginning or end to our pain.
Episodic migraine can be imagined as an empty bucket that is in place to catch drips from a
very slow leak, chronic migraine is like the sea where there are waves very often, but small
breaks between them, then there is chronic daily (aka. Chronic Daily Headache Syndrome)
which is like a never-ending sound wave, smoothly passing from one to the next.
So I’ve taught you about the imagery, here’s the supporting information;
Prodrome is the time (hours to days) before your attack in which you notice sensitivities and
onset of symptoms, this is sometimes followed by Aura.
Aura is often reported as a ‘warning sign’, but in reality, it is a part of the migraine, it is most often characterised as a visual disturbance, temporary blindness/ blind spots or tingling/ pins and needles, but can take many different forms.
Then we have the Attack phase, which is what people often think about as the ‘migraine’.
This is where the pain and symptoms are at their highest. Migraine headaches are often one-sided throbbing headaches, but they can swap from side to side, be on both sides, in one focal point, in darting motions and many other ways. In essence, migraine is unpredictable and can’t be pinned to one list of symptoms or signs.
Finally we have Postdrome which is also, fondly referred to as the ‘migraine hangover’
where the person is recovering from the exhaustion of their pain and symptoms, this stage can cause intense fatigue, lack of concentration and mood changes among other symptoms.
What does migraine look like?
Migraine most often doesn’t have any visible indicator, therefore it is called an ‘invisible
disability’ or an ‘invisible illness’. The lady serving you your coffee in the morning with a
big smile, your friendly postman, your helpful college professor, the jokester in 2nd class, any of these people could be suffering with migraine in silence and nobody would know.
It’s an illness that is unfortunately misrepresented in media as a bad headache and those who suffer often suffer in silence. The ‘Migraine Trust’ have stated that migraineurs will often
attend work, despite being unwell, this is known as presenteeism, although it is difficult to
monitor it is stated that it could end up costing an employer almost twice the amount as
absenteeism for migraine, although invisible, can cause huge decreases in productivity.
Here are some symptoms that I, myself or my friends have suffered with our migraines:
(This list is by no means exhaustive)
Temporary Blindness, Paralysis, Non-Epileptic Seizures
Inability to talk Stammer
Blood Pressure Fluctuations
Hallucinations (visual, auditory, sensory and olfactory)
Pins and Needles
Loss of Temperature Control
Body Twitches, Drooping/Swollen Face.
Difficulty Concentrating, Blacking Out/ Fainting, Difficulty Concentrating
Anxiety, Depression, Insomnia
Who does migraine affect?
Migraine affects approximately 1.1 billion people worldwide (That’s roughly 1 in 7 people)
and is viewed by the World health organisation as one of the most disabling neurological
disorders, in fact; severe migraine attacks are classified by the World Health Organization as
among the most disabling illnesses, comparable to dementia, quadriplegia and active
psychosis. That being said, not everyone who suffers with migraine will have them often and
some will be more sever than others.
Migraine is seen as a predominantly ‘female’ illness, although this not true, it is seen as such,
because according to a 2018 study by Novartis 79% of migraineurs are in fact biologically
female. I, along with 3% of sufferers have ‘Chronic Migraine’.
To be classified as chronic you must have 15 or more headache days per month lasting for at least three months.
These days, however, do not take into account prodrome or postdrome.
Migraine, doesn’t only physically affect the person suffering with the illness, it can also
mentally affect them with 84% feeling as though it has impacted their work life and 90%
stating that they live in fear of the next attack (Novartis, 2018). Migraine can affect their
relationships with partners, families and friends as well as their work and the economy. The
‘Migraine Research Foundation’ are quoted as saying that Migraine is estimated to cost $36
Billion yearly in America in loss of productivity alone, with a further $5.4 Billion being spent
on the treatment of patients with Migraine. The Migraine Trust have also stated that migraine
equates for 47% of short-term absence days in the UK for non-manual employees.