Living with migraines: The silent killer

Woman with a migraine. Image from

It’s been about 9 years living with migraines and for all that while; I’ve never really been able to find the words to describe how I feel when I get a migraine attack. All I know is the pain is intense, the pressure in my head is excruciating and the whole world seems to crumble right before my bloodshot eyes. It’s like banging your little toe on a piece of furniture again and again.

Sometimes the pain goes on for days on end which leads me to stay indoors, mostly in bed with curtains closed and much appreciated silence. I lost count on the number of times I’ve been admitted to hospital because of them, I’ve also lost count on the number of occasions where I was to buy a new pair of shoes but ended up in a pharmacy getting painkillers.

Most people don’t know about migraines, they just assume it’s one of those stress headaches when it really isn’t. They can affect work and school performance, social life and a person’s general wellbeing as well. When you get severe bouts of pain every day for almost 10 years, it’s bound to affect your personality and mental state as well.

Woman with a migraine. Image from //
Woman with a migraine. Image from

I recently came across the story of Brian Wangila, a young man who has been living with chronic migraines for over 9 years. His story details the anguish and pain that chronic migraines has put him through and how it has drastically changed his entire life. He even lost 2 scholarships and had to discontinue his university degree three times because he couldn’t manage the mandatory classes.

Migraines. What exactly are they?

A migraine is usually a severe headache mostly characterized by a throbbing pain at the front or can affect the whole head with the initial point of pain being on side of the head (the word migraine comes from the Greek word ‘hemikrania’ meaning ‘half skull)
Along with the excruciating pain, they can cause vomiting, blurred vision and extreme sensitivity to light, sound and smells and in severe cases, permanent brain damage. The symptoms of migraines that are normally temporary ‘warning signs’ of an attack are known as aura. They typically develop over the duration of five minutes to an hour or sometimes even a day. You can have:

• A migraine with aura – where there are warning signs before the migraine begins
• A migraine without an aura – where the migraine occurs without the signs
• A migraine aura without headache, also known as a silent migraine – where an aura or other symptoms are experienced without the development of the headache.

Symptoms vary from one person to the next but they mostly include:
i. Visual problems for example an occurrence of blind spots
ii. Nausea and vomiting
iii. Dizziness or loss of balance
iv. Loss of consciousness. Although rare, some people can have blackouts during their attacks
v. General body weakness, numbness and poor motor coordination – getting up from a chair or out of bed can become nearly an impossible task
vi. Neck and back pain

Migraines are one of the 20 most disabling lifetime conditions that affect around one in every five women and around one in every 15 men but what remains a mystery is its exact cause. Some doctors have linked them to changes in certain neurotransmitter levels – chemicals that send messages between brain cells – within the brain while others strongly suggest genetic dispositions to migraines; there is usually a strong family history of migraines in patients with the disorder but no one has come up with a definitive cause, yet.

Types of headaches. Image from //
Types of headaches. Image from

Since most doctors haven’t yet found the leading cause, the best way is to avoid triggers as much as possible. They are unique for every person but the most common migraine triggers are:

• Strong stimuli like loud noises, bright lights and sun glares can induce migraines.
• Stress, changes in environment and hormonal changes especially in women.

Fluctuations in estrogen may trigger headaches in many women with known migraines. Women with a history of migraines may experience frequent headaches immediately before or during their periods

Hormonal medications, such as oral contraceptives and hormone replacement therapy, may also worsen migraines.
• Drinks: alcohol, especially wine, and beverages with high amounts of caffeine can also trigger migraines.

Treatment usually involves over the counter medications used to relive the pain, although some migraine attacks have had victims being hospitalized regularly

What then can you do to manage migraine triggers?
1. Hydrate! Hydrate! Hydrate! Water can heal. One of the major causes of headaches is dehydration so don’t forget to drink up!
2. Rest. Always make sure you get sufficient rest every night. It might not be the recommended 7-8 hours of sleep but anything under 5 hours puts a significant amount of stress on your brain and whole body in general.
3. Engage in exercises like yoga, meditation, jogging or even taking a walk. These simple yet subtle exercises can be overlooked but have a significant power in rejuvenating your whole being.

If you do get frequent headaches, don’t hesitate to seek medical attention. For more details on migraines, check them out here.

Also, here are some things not to say to people with migraines.

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