Those of you who weren’t reading or following my blog in the early days will probably be unaware that I used to do a series of ‘Dates To Note’ posts – if you’re interested they can be found in the menu above. These ran through 2013 into 2014 but I decided that they had run their course and, apart from a few reblogs – and a spoof which I reblogged on April Fool’s Day this year – there haven’t been many more since then. Last year I posted to recognise Migraine Awareness Week and I thought I’d do it again this year, as it is important to me. It begins today and runs until Saturday, and I hope you see some media coverage – though given everything else that is going on I fear it may get lost in the deluge! This is an expanded version of what I posted last year, so parts of it may seem familiar to you.
I’m sure many of you have experience of migraine, either yourself or with someone close to you. I was first diagnosed when I was 15 – to save you the maths, that was around 50 years ago. Since then I’ve had several migraines a year, apart from one blissful period in my 20s when I went three years without one and foolishly hoped I was somehow ‘cured.’ Not so. And the older I got, the more migraines I had and the longer they seemed to last. Five or six a year wasn’t uncommon, and they lingered for up to three days instead of just the one when they first started.
I hope you follow the link above, which takes you to the Awareness Week page on the Migraine Trust’s website. The Migraine Trust organises this week as a means of educating people about migraine, and their website has a lot of helpful information and links. Their headline statistics are frightening: every day in the UK there are 190,000 migraine attacks. The condition affects one in seven people, and is more prevalent than diabetes, epilepsy and asthma combined. In other words, it is a big issue! They have undertaken much research into the underlying causes of migraine, but their aim is ultimately to find a cure for this debilitating illness. This is especially important as only about half of those who suffer are actually diagnosed with the condition: if a cure could be found, that might encourage more people to seek help.
One of the things the Migraine Trust encourage you to do is to keep a diary of your migraines and share it with your doctor. I did this when I was first diagnosed with depression, as I seemed to be getting headaches and migraines all the time, and it was very helpful to see what pattern – if any – there was. In particular, the site might help those who say they have a migraine when it is actually a bad headache: believe me, there is a difference and you’ll know it if you’re a fellow sufferer! When I was running the Dates To Note series I always gave a link to the NHS website as this is a very good source of information, and their coverage of migraine is as good as everything else they do.
My diary showed that there was absolutely no pattern to my migraines, which often seemed to occur with no prior warning. Most of mine started the moment I woke up: there was no build up to them throughout the day, as some people experience, which made them difficult to assess. Like most migraine sufferers I just shut myself away in a darkened room until it felt safe to open the curtains again. Medical science has yet to agree on a set of defined causes for the illness: whilst one of the causes is believed to be emotional factors, such as stress, mine have always been noticeably different from regular headaches, which tend to fall into the category of ‘tension headaches.’ Migraines are believed to be a result of chemical changes in the body affecting the genes, and the genetic effect can mean that they are passed through the generations within a family. My Mum used to suffer badly with migraine and it has always been believed in our family – and by doctors – that I inherited this from her.
So how can you explain the fact that I have had far fewer migraines since I retired? I now live a life which, as far as I can possibly make it, is free from stress and tension. And the frequency of migraines has dropped noticeably – go figure! Does this mean that what I have believed for around 50 years was wrong? Even if that is the case, I can’t really see how I could have changed my working life to remove stress factors, which were part and parcel of every job I had. But I do find it interesting that a reduction in the number and length of migraines since I retired may somehow be related to that major lifestyle change. It is nearly seven years since I retired, and I can only recall seven or eight migraines in that time – when I would probably have endured something like 40 in a similar period whilst working. I can recommend retirement for a number of reasons – apart from having to be old to do it – but for me a dramatic reduction in migraine frequency is one of the biggest benefits. As I think to back to this time last year, when I wrote the previous post, I’m finding it hard to recall having any migraines at all since then. I probably have had some bad headaches in that time, but not to the point at which I’d be recording them in a migraine diary – for me, that is a huge step forward.
I’ve put a couple of the Migraine Trust’s campaign images at the head and foot of this post. They refer to giving up something you enjoy eating, drinking or doing to show solidarity with someone you may know who suffers migraines. I’m not expecting any of you to do that, but I’m sharing these to get you to think. For myself, I’ve already given up alcohol for health reasons, and have never found that eating cheese or chocolate, or drinking caffeine, have ever triggered a migraine for me. I know they do for others, though – I guess I’ve just been lucky in that respect, even though a glass of red with some cheese is now banned for me! But, in thinking about this piece, it struck me that I have a habit of using the iPad late into the evening: as far as I know it hasn’t brought on a migraine but I often sleep poorly and feel tired the next day, so I’m going to give that up for a month and see if that has any effect. That’s my pledge, which I’ve signed up to be added to the Trust’s pledge wall.
If you’re a fellow sufferer you have my sympathy. If so, or you’d just like to know more, do take a few moments to look at the Migraine Trust’s website – here – as I’m sure it will be of interest and help to you.