Living with migraines — tips for self-management (1/2)
by Daniel Roberts
Migraine is the third most common chronic disease worldwide affecting as many as 1 in 7 people. It is a genetic condition associated with significant morbidity. Despite this, research into migraine is the least publicly funded of all neurological illnesses.
I have suffered from migraines for 20 years since the age of 5 years. It has been a struggle getting through my school years and into adult life. When I mention migraines, most interpret this as “Oh, he gets bad headaches every now and again”. But the truth is far more complicated. Every person with migraine experiences something different.
A typical attack
I experience a migraine once every 2 weeks. During an attack, my speech becomes slurred, vision blurs and I lose balance. My brain is taken over by a headache from hell, I can no longer function and feel nauseous. The only option is to stop what I am doing and find somewhere quiet and dark to lie down. The sooner I do this, the quicker my recovery. Hence my new phone with the number of a well-known London taxi service and payment details programmed in. This allows me to close my eyes in the back seat and get home quickly and safely.
Another tip is to carry a sick bag. Because my symptoms occur suddenly without warning, this minimises embarrassing moments on the train or about town.
What I have learned to avoid
Several factors promote an attack. These include excessive exercise, hot weather, bright sunshine, extreme cold, stress, over tiredness and poor diet. Sadly, I have found it necessary to avoid chocolate, cheese, alcohol, coffee and citrus fruits. Also eating too much can bring on a migraine.
Treatments, I have tried them all
Over the years, I have been put on various forms of medication. I have also tried a range of complementary therapy such as stress relieving massages, acupuncture, physiotherapy and hypnotherapy. I have even tried injections of Botox to relax my head muscles. Unfortunately, none of these interventions seem to have made a real difference.
My tips for self-management
I attempt to eat a healthy diet and avoid big meals. Wearing a cap and dark glasses in bright sunshine, and using a woolly hat in cold weather helps. I carry a bottle of water with me as being well hydrated seems to be preventative. Getting a good night’s sleep helps me face the day. Since starting to exercise regularly, be it out cycling or in the gym, I have noticed that my migraine attacks are less severe, and recovery is quicker. Now I need to lie down for only 1 ½ hrs instead of 3- 5 hours allowing me to return to work later in the day if ‘caught short’ in the office.
In my second article, I explain why having a support network is important.