21 Things To Know About Migraines Not Everyone Realizes

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If you've ever experienced a migraine, then you're familiar with the pulsating head pain, sensitivity to light and sound, and nausea that basically feels like the worst hangover you've ever had times 100. If you're lucky enough to have never experienced this curse, then there are likely some things no one has ever told you about migraines that I wish I'd known earlier. And knowing about these things can help you be more sympathetic to your migraine-suffering friends.

While a lot of people throw around the word migraine to describe a headache, it's actually a neurological disorder that's much more than head pain. "A migraine can cause severe throbbing pain or a pulsing sensation, usually on just one side of the head. It's often accompanied by nausea, vomiting, and extreme sensitivity to light and sound," the Mayo Clinic explained on its website.

Normal headaches usually go away in a few hours or with the help of over-the-counter medications, but migraines can persist for days or even weeks and cause symptoms that are so disabling they affect sufferers' ability to perform daily tasks. I have had migraine headaches since I was 6, and I know it can be hella frustrating trying to explain the experience to someone who's never had one. But, I'm going to give it a go by telling you about these 21 things you might not know about migraines.

1. There Are Different Kinds Of Migraines

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Migraine headaches aren't all the same. Some people have chronic migraines, which are migraines that occur 15 or more times a month. There are also menstrual migraines, which can happen before, during, and/or after your period. Some migraine suffers experience a visual disturbance called an aura before an attack, while others have ocular migraines, which interfere with vision but don't cause pain.

2. Migraines Affect Women Three Times More Than Men

According to the Migraine Research Foundation, 38 million people in the U.S. experience migraines and 28 million of them are women.

3. Migraines Can Cause Sensitivity To Scents

If a migraine-suffering friend is bothered by your perfume, they're not trying to be difficult. Up to 50 percent of people with migraines are extremely sensitive to smells to the point of becoming nauseous or dizzy when exposed to certain scents.

4. Not All Bosses Think Migraines Are A Good Reason To Miss Work

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A series of stories posted on the website Migraine.com detail the frustration of trying to work with migraines. People discuss everything from threats of termination to not being believed when they have to miss work because of a migraine.

5. Migraineurs Have Rights At Work

If you get migraine headaches, you might not know that you have rights under the Americans With Disabilities Act. According to the ADA, a disability is defined as a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits a major life activity. You must have a record of such an impairment (like a doctor's note). Once this is established with your employer, there are certain steps that must be taken.

"Employers must provide reasonable accommodations to qualified applicants or employees. A reasonable accommodation is any modification or adjustment to a job or the work environment that will enable an applicant or employee with a disability to participate in the application process or to perform essential job functions."

For me, this includes being able to work away from scents and bright indoor lights. I have had to have this conversation with two separate employers, and we were able to work something out. The website Migraine Relief offers helpful tips about how to educate your boss about your migraine headaches.

6. Some People Spend A Good Chunk Of Their Lives With A Migraine

The Migraine Trust reported that the average migraine sufferer spends 5.3 percent of their life with a migraine headache.

7. Migraines Cost The Country A Lot Of Money

According to the Migraine Research Foundation, loss of productivity from migraine headaches costs the U.S. as much as $36 billion annually.

8. There Aren't Not Enough Doctors To Treat Everyone

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As recently as 2018, there were only 500 certified headache specialists in the U.S. to treat more than 38 million migraine sufferers, the Migraine Research Foundation reported.

9. Migraineurs Need Routine To Manage Triggers

People who live with migraine headaches spend a lot of time identifying and managing their migraine triggers. For me, this includes avoiding all artificial scents and fluorescent lighting, getting enough — but not too much — sleep, avoiding excessive travel, managing stress, and eating regular meals. Triggers like sudden changes in weather are out of my control so I do my best to manage everything else as much as I can.

10. Colic In Infants May Be A Symptom Of Migraine

According to the American Migraine Foundation, 10 percent of migraine sufferers are children. What's more, colic (frequent fussing or crying) in infants may be a sign a baby is having a migraine.

11. Migraineurs Can Be Stigmatized As Lazy

Research published in the journal PLOS ONE found that there is a significant stigma surrounding chronic migraine headaches. Because migraine headaches are an invisible disease, sufferers' pain is often dismissed by those who have never experienced it. The stigma is particularly high for people with chronic migraines who often miss work. They may be labeled as lazy when they're actually in extreme pain.

12. Migraines Are The Third Most Common Disease In The World

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Because many people suffer in silence, you might not know that migraine headaches are the third most common disease in the world, according to facts and figures from the Migraine Trust. In fact, migraine is more common than diabetes, epilepsy, and asthma combined.

13. Migraine Headaches Take An Emotional Toll

As with all chronic pain conditions, living with migraine headaches, and the constant fear of having a migraine, can take a toll on mental health. Harvard Medical School reported that a study presented at the American Academy of Neurology's annual meeting found that migraineurs are 41 percent more likely to experience depression than those without migraines.

14. Regular Pain Medications Don't Work For Migraines

When someone says they have a migraine, they may be offered an OTC pain reliever by a well-meaning person. These types of meds are as effective as breath mints for dulling migraine pain. Most migraineurs under the care of a doctor take either a preventative medication, a rescue medication, or both. However, rescue meds only work if they are taken at the first sign of a migraine. If this window is missed the pain might warrant a trip to urgent care.

15. The Effects Of A Single Migraine Can Last For Days

As if experiencing a migraine weren't bad enough, the recovery stage (postdrome stage) can last for days, even after the pain subsides. The Migraine Trust describes this as a hangover-type feeling that can include exhaustion and appetite changes.

16. Sex Can Relieve Migraine Symptoms For Some People

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The last thing you probably want to do when it feels like someone is hitting the back of your eye with an ice pick is have sex. However, sex has been found to relieve migraine symptoms for some people, Live Science reported.

17. Half Of All Migraineurs Are Never Diagnosed

According to the Migraine Research Foundation, half of all migraineurs are not diagnosed. This may be in part because in 2015 the amount of federal funds allocated to migraine research amounted to just 50 cents per migraine sufferer. That's not even enough to buy a cheap cup of coffee.

18. Migraines Can Change Brain Structure

While migraine headaches are rarely a sign of an underlying neurological disorder, they can change the structure of the brain over time, a study published in the journal Neurology reported. One reason this may happen is because of disruption of blood flow to certain areas of the brain during a migraine attack.

19. Overuse Of Migraine Meds Can Cause Rebound Headaches

Migraines and rebound headaches can be a vicious cycle brought on by an overuse of migraine medication, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Women's Health reported. "As each dose of medicine wears off, the pain comes back, leading the patient to take even more. This overuse causes your medicine to stop helping your pain and actually start causing headaches." If you think this is happening to you, see your doctor.

20. Women With Menstrual Migraines Can Also Have Other Types Of Migraines

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While menstrual migraines can occur before, during, and after your period, women who have menstrual migraines are also more likely to have migraines during other times of the month, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Women's Health.

21. The Cause Of Migraine Headaches Is Unknown

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Women's Health noted that the cause of migraine headaches is unknown. Because of this, each patient must work to identify and manage their specific triggers. "A combination of triggers — not a single thing or event — is more likely to set off an attack. A person's response to triggers also can vary from migraine to migraine."

If you suspect you have migraines, talk to your doctor. If a friend or loved one has migraines, offer them love and support. Because migraines are real, and they totally suck.