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If you really want to get rid of a migraine, you can, right?

If you really want to get rid of a migraine, you can, right?

I have heard this from people who ought to know better. This blog post is going to be about migraine and the people who have it. I’m concerned about the subject, not because I am a migraineur (I’m not) but because my partner is, and I have learned about what people who experience migraine go through from her and from researching the subject. So I’d like to write about it here, first, to bring awareness about  migraine to people who may not know much (like me before I met my partner), and second, to dispel some of the myths that people believe about migraine.

First, migraine is a neurological disease. It is genetic and hereditary. My partner’s brother also suffers from migraine, and her mother used to. One symptom of migraine is a headache that can be extremely painful and debilitating. The headache usually occurs on one side of the head, and sometimes is accompanied by nausea and vomiting. People may see flashing lights or wavy lines just before they get a migraine episode. The time period before, during, and after the headache is called the aura. Some people don’t get headaches, but do experience the flashing lights, etc. A migraine episode often includes sensitivity to light or loud noise.

While stress may intensify migraine, it does not cause it. Stress may intensify any pain or discomfort. Distracting yourself won’t cure it, although sometimes it may alleviate the symptoms temporarily. Well-meaning people may tell someone with a migraine that they have tight neck or shoulders, implying that the tightness caused the migraine. Since this is sometimes coupled with an offer to massage those shoulders, it’s not entirely bad. But the kindly person needs to realize that massage won’t cure the migraine. Implying that the migraineur just needs to relax and get stress out of their lives is not only insulting, but blames the victim.

That’s another thing. People who get migraines often do not like to be called victims or migraine sufferers. Many feel that these words makes them seem weak. They are also tired of hearing the latest remedy you have read about on Facebook or heard from your friend. Chances are they have already tried chiropractic, acupuncture, Chinese medicine, biofeedback, meditation, or yoga. They most likely go to a specialist who prescribes preventatives and pain medications, many of which work for a while and then stop working. They have tried changing their diets. My partner no longer drinks wine, red or white. (Beer, ale, and mixed drinks don’t bother her.) She avoids chocolate and aged cheese. She has a long list of foods that are migraine triggers.

The thing is, migraine is still not that well understood, even by neurologists. It is one of those chronic diseases that are understudied and underfunded. No one wears a gray ribbon in support of finding the cure for migraine. No activists that I know of have picketed the CDC, waving signs and yelling catchy chants like, “It’s not all in our heads!” or “I shouldn’t have to choose between pain meds and the mortgage!”

Let’s look at the costs of migraine. Medication costs can be crippling. Nine pills of a leading prescription drug for migraine can cost over $400.00. People who get migraine often lose days from work. Some get headaches several times a week. They may only get nine pills a month because of insurance restrictions and may have to decide if a particular migraine is bad enough to warrant taking an expensive pill.

So migraine is something more people need to be aware of. We need to support migraineurs and not blame them for this neurological condition. And we need to work for a cure.

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