Saturday, November 10, 2012


One of the scariest moments of a sometimes-adventurous life has been when holding my two crying little ones as their mother was taken to hospital by ambulance - absolutely crippled with the pain of a migraine headache.

She has suffered them since teenage years - and I had seen some bad episodes - but the head-splitting pain of this particular migraine was truly awful. It was so bad she thought she was dying.

And she is not alone - an estimated 12 per cent of Australians and 25 million Americans suffer from the malady, 75% of them being women.

In Australia the Centre for Applied Economic Research at the University of New South Wales put the cost of migraines at between $302 million and $721 million a year. This is apportioned to loss of productivity and medical costs.

The World Health Organisation has put migraines at No. 12 in the Top 20 leading causes of disability in females. For men and women, migraines register 19th.

Famous people who are believed to have suffered migraines include Julius Caesar, Joan of Arc, Karl Marx, George Bernard Shaw, Saint Paul, Thomas Jefferson, Edgar Allan Poe, Miguel de Cervantes, Friedrich Nietzsche, Pyotr Tchaikovsky, Robert E. Lee, Ulysses S. Grant, Pablo Picasso, Lewis Carroll, Sigmund Freud and Vincent Van Gogh.

This Who's Who, however, doesn't help sufferers of the malady. There are no fail-safe signs that indicate when or where migraines would appear. There doesn't seem to be any particular type of food, but they seem to be more prevalent in humid, sticky weather.

Often sufferers can pick the early onset of a migraine and quickly resort to the (usually) successful avoidance treatment of resting and taking painkillers. If that fails to ease the pain, then a dose of Imigran spray up the nose will usually do the trick. At $20 a sniff that does not come cheap but, as any person involved with a migraine sufferer will tell you, any price would be gladly paid.

I can remember that less than a decade ago a tablet form of the treatment cost $80 (each) and the person ran the risk of throwing it up anyway!

The really nasty migraines are the ones you wake up with. Bang. Straight into agony. There's not much that can be done about them and it tends to be a matter of either waiting to vomit with the pain - that seems to ease it enough so one can sleep - or else it's off to the doctor for a strong pain-killing injection such as pethidine.

Migraine susceptibility is a curse that tends to run in families. The headaches are caused by blood vessels in your head shrinking, then swelling. This causes the pain that is almost unbearable and the beastly things can last anywhere between four hours and a week.

During that time sufferers will be light and noise sensitive, may vomit or suffer from diohorrea, have sight problems or even be temporarily paralysed down one side.

The word migraine derives from the expression hemi-cranial, or half-head. Migraine sufferers often report shocking pain on one side of their head - due to the blood system being affected at the back of one side of their brain. The visual problems sufferers have stem from this part of the brain being affected.

If you feel a migraine coming on take any medicines or use preventative measures suggested by your doctor. Apply a cold compress or icepacks and lie down. Taking aspirin when you feel an impending migraine can ease things as it thins the blood coursing through restricted vessels.

And while many people turn their noses up at the name Botox and its use as a cosmetic surgery tool, there have been clinical tests in the US that suggest the toxin can reduce the incidence of migraines. Remember that the best person to help you with migraines is your doctor.

Here are some causes of migraines:

Contraception pills
Strenuous exercise
Hormone Replacement Therapy
Bright or flashing lights
Changes in weather
Loud noises
Strong smells

Foods that can cause migraines:

Artificial sweeteners

Migraine Action Association

By James Anthony -