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Doing My Part for Migraine Awareness

June is National Headache Awareness month and as a chronic migraine sufferer I’ve been trying to figure out how to contribute to the month for years.

Flickr photo courtesy of Deborah Leigh (Migraine Chick)

– Over 36 million Americans suffer from migraines

– Of those 36 million sufferers, 27 million are women

– Migraine episodes can last from 2 to 72 hours

– One in 20 migraine sufferers experience daily or near daily migraine pain

– NIH funding for migraine research is $9 million – less than 0.03 percent of the annual NIH research budget

In the past, I’ve wanted to write articles for newspapers about the plight of migraineurs but was never able to get anything together in time to do so. Since that’s once again the case this year, I thought I’d tell my own story to raise awareness of a disease that the World Health Organization ranks on their Top 20 Most Disabling Lifetime Conditions.

The first migraine I can remember experiencing is also one of my most vivid early memories. I was probably 6 and my sister was babysitting me. I don’t remember how the migraine developed or how long it took to dissipate, but I do remember some of the most intense pain I have ever felt before in my life – and I’ve broken my wrists and arm three times. I remember crying. I remember my neighbor coming to help my sister as I was in agony. And I remember them trying to lessen the pain by holding a steaming hot compress against my forehead. We’ve learned since that they probably only exacerbated the problem with the washcloth as my blood vessels expand in the middle of an episode and respond to cold packs not heat.

I had headaches off and on through my early teen years, but never any that registered on my usual scale. But then, on April 10, 2001 I woke up with another stunner and this one didn’t go away. I missed five weeks of school as we went through every possible test and diagnosis to figure out what was happening. My primary care physicians had quickly ruled out migraine because a migraine generally only lasts 2-72 hours and I was already clocking in at 840.

I finally went to a neurologist who specialized in migraines and found out that I was a lucky part of 5 percent of the population that experiences chronic daily migraines.

With the help of a fantastic neurologist and the wonder of pharmaceuticals my migraines are thankfully under control for the most part. They never go away, but it is often a 1-3 on a scale of 1-10. It occasionally will bump itself up to a 5-6 on a daily basis. And then, I’ll get the 7s, 8s and 9s that keep me in bed and away from lights for days.

But, I function — I had to — these things started when I was 14 and I determined very early on that I was going to lead as normal a life as possible.

I’ve heard of so many chronic migraine sufferers having to quit their jobs, or not attending college and I’m so grateful that I’ve been able to push through my disease to appear to normal. Part of my ability to do that, though, is my amazing family and friends who realize that these things are not just in my head, so to speak, they’re a real problem, and they’ve given up a portion of themselves for me — they don’t wear perfumes around me (or at least they always check with me before the spray); they don’t push me if I tell them I can’t eat at a specific restaurant or a specific food because of my sensitivities; they leave gatherings with me if something is triggering my headache; and they’re very protective when I’m at a concert or bar and make me close my eyes because of strobe lights. I love them, and I recognize they’re so important in my quest to be “normal.”

My friends and family understand migraines, even if they’ve never experienced one themselves; they’ve seen the pain in my face; they’ve driven me to the ER when they get too bad; and they stock Mt. Dew in their homes and apartments in case I need a caffeine fix.

But the greater population doesn’t.

A migraine isn’t just a tension headache. Just because you may have experienced a headache and been able to go on with your daily life, please don’t assume that a migraine sufferer is just weak in comparison or should be able to “get over it” or “deal with it.” Just because you can’t see it, please don’t think a migraine sufferer is imagining their symptoms or triggers or aren’t in as much pain as they say they are.

And please, also realize, that the great majority of migraine sufferers are striving for normalcy. Migraines are disruptive, the less we have to disrupt when we have one, though, the more normal and accepted we feel in society.

Awareness is half the battle.

For more information on migraines, please visit the Migraine Research Foundation or the National Headache Foundation.

Post By Liz Harter (70 Posts)

Liz Harter has a degree in English Writing with a minor in Spanish from Saint Mary’s College in Notre Dame, Ind. She is an award winning journalist on the collegiate level with a strong background in journalism. She currently works in PR and is a social media autodidact Google+

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About the Author

Liz Harter has a degree in English Writing with a minor in Spanish from Saint Mary’s College in Notre Dame, Ind. She is an award winning journalist on the collegiate level with a strong background in journalism. She currently works in PR and is a social media autodidact Google+

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