Trying to describe what migraine sufferers feel to someone who’s never experienced one is like trying to describe the Mona Lisa to someone who has been blind since birth. What makes matters worse is that sometimes, people think that a migraine is just like a regular headache, and wonder why you just can’t work through it. After all, they had a really bad headache just yesterday and that didn’t stop them from making it through the day. If you suffer from migraines and have one of those well-meaning people in your life, don’t fear. Rather than try to articulate through the searing agony, simply hand them this article.
1. Migraines are much more than a headache.
Yes, technically a migraine is a headache because it occurs in the head, but that misses the big picture. A migraine usually is localized to one area, but in rare cases, it occurs on both sides of the head. Migraines last for up to three days, with the pain causing a throbbing or pounding that worsens with physical exertion. Light, sound, and strong smells tend to make a migraine worse, often causing shooting pain behind the eyes or causing nausea and vomiting.
2. Aspirin doesn’t do much.
Most over the counter headache medicines don’t do diddly against the power of a migraine. There are some OTC medications can help treat the pain while a migraine is going on, including Excedrin Migraine, Advil Migraine, and Motrin Migraine. These medications only contain classic pain relievers, though, so most doctors turn to prescriptions to help patients. Usually, triptans are used for migraine pain. Brands like Maxalt (rizatriptan), Relpax (eletriptan), and Zomig (zolmitriptan) are among the most popular, but Frova (frovatriptan), Treximet, and Axert (almotriptan) are also used.
3. The time before a migraine is just as bad as the actual migraine.
Nobody knows for sure what triggers a migraine. For some people it’s sound; for others, it’s a certain smell. The trigger is different for every person and it doesn’t happen all the time. Usually a couple of days before a migraine strikes, there are symptoms called a prodrome. These can include:
- stiffness in the neck
- frequent yawning.
Just before a migraine, some sufferers get an immediate pre-symptom called an aura. These are caused when your nervous system goes a little wonky and can include auditory, tactile, and visual hallucinations that can last for up to an hour. After the aura, the migraine starts in earnest.
4. Once the migraine starts, hang on for the ride.
Because a migraine is made worse by physical exertion and additional external stimuli, most people learn to manage the pain with lifestyle changes. Small things like relaxing in a dark and quiet room can help prevent how light and sound makes things worse. Other things include a warm cup of coffee. The caffeine can help stave off the early stages of migraine pain. A warm bath can help relieve the pain as well. Alternating temperature therapy also helps as the ice packs numb, and the heating pads relax the sore muscles.
5. What can you do to help migraine sufferers?
The first thing is to not dismiss their pain. Telling someone with a migraine that you understand is a huge relief to them. Be supportive. If they need to cancel or change their plans because of a migraine attack, let them know you understand. Letting them know that you know that migraines are literally a pain to deal with will let your friend or loved one relax and concentrate on managing their pain. The second thing to do is to ask them what you can do to help. Ask them if there’s anything specific they need to be done. Doing small chores like that might not seem like a big deal, but when going outside makes you feel like you’re going to throw up, it’s actually a huge deal.
LowestMed’s Health Information Center is meant for educational purposes and is not intended for medical advice. If you would like to recommend any story ideas, feel free to contact us.