Migraine is a complex, debilitating disease that affects everyone differently. Find an overview of some facts that you may not know in this list.
Affecting one in seven people worldwide, migraine is an extremely pervasive disease that remains largely misunderstood and stigmatized. Misconceptions surrounding migraine downplay its severity and harm those living with it.
Here are 10 things you should know about migraine to help you better support your colleagues and loved ones living with this disease.
1. Anyone Can Have Migraine
Migraine affects two to three times as many women as men, but there is a misconception that it is a “women’s disease.” In reality, anyone, regardless of sex, gender, race, ethnicity or age, can have this disease. Below are some facts about whom the disease impacts:
- One billion people worldwide live with migraine.
- One in 10 children are impacted by the disease.
- Migraine affects more than 30% of women over a lifetime.
- It is the third most common disease in the world.
2. Migraine Isn’t ‘Just a Headache’
Migraine isn’t a headache. The head pain associated with this disease can be intensely painful and debilitating, and it typically includes other symptoms like:
- Nausea or vomiting
- Sensitivity to light, sound and/or smells
- Visual or sensory disturbances (including temporary vision loss)
- Difficulty with thinking and/or concentrating
- Anxiety or depressed mood
Migraine attacks can be disabling and may prevent someone from being able to perform at work, complete daily household tasks or socialize. Patients often need to take medication and rest in a quiet, dark room to recover.
3. Migraine Occurs in Phases
Migraine occurs in four phases, with headache being just one of them. Each phase presents its own symptoms, and the entire attack will typically last one to two days. In some cases, an attack can last over a week. The four phases of an attack are prodrome, aura, headache and postdrome.
There is also an interictal phase, which is the time between attacks. A person can still experience symptoms during this phase.
4. Migraine Attacks Can Last for Days
Unlike the headaches that an average person may experience and quickly treat with over-the-counter pain medications, migraine attacks can last for days and can be debilitating. Both the prodrome and postdrome phase can last up to 2 days each. A typical attack, by definition, can last between 4 to 72 hours. In some cases, the headache phase of an attack can last for more than three days.
An attack is considered status migrainosus when it lasts longer than 72 hours or doesn’t respond to usual treatment. There are different ways to approach status migrainosus. But the most common methods include IV medications at an infusion center or in the emergency room, if the infusion center is closed.
5. There Are Common Triggers
Migraine is a genetic neurological disease that makes the brain hypersensitive. There are some common triggers, but not every patient experiences it the same way. Some of the hypersensitivity and food cravings associated with the prodrome phase can also sometimes be mistaken for triggers. Some common triggers can include bright, fluorescent lights, scented products or stress.
Migraine attacks are not a person’s fault, and it’s challenging to avoid triggers in many environments, such as workplaces. Avoiding triggers may not be enough to prevent an attack from happening. Thankfully, there are workplace accommodations that can help to reduce migraine triggers and migraine attack severity.
6. There Are Different Types
There are multiple types of migraine, which present unique symptoms and affect patients in different ways. For example, vestibular migraine typically comes with symptoms of vertigo, which can affect a person’s ability to drive, work or travel. Hemiplegic migraine can cause weakness on one side of the body, problems with coordination and changes in consciousness.
7. Women Are Affected Differently Than Men
Changes in hormone levels can be a contributing factor of migraine. Two out of three women experience attacks in the days preceding their period and the first days of their period. These attacks are often more severe and last longer than attacks during other times of the month. In addition to preventive medications, sometimes the use of short-term preventive treatment during the days of expected attacks can help. Continuous doses of birth control can also be a preventive treatment for women who experience attacks only with their periods.
8. Migraine Severely Impacts the Workplace
Migraine symptoms can make getting through the work day feel challenging or impossible. Fearing that their colleagues or employer will judge their repeated need for time off, a person experiencing an attack will often “push through”—even as they feel sick, experience light, noise and smell sensitivity and have difficulty thinking or concentrating. This continuous stigma can lower morale and heighten conflict in the workplace.
Migraine is the second leading cause of all global disability. When not recognized or appropriately managed, it can cause issues at any level of an organization. Thankfully, workplace education programs can support employees with migraine and increase productivity.
9. Treatment Is Unique for Each Individual
For most people, treating migraine is not as simple as taking over-the-counter pain medications. Many people receive prescriptions of acute medications that treat attacks once they’ve begun. A person with frequent and disabling attacks may also be prescribed preventive medication that aims to reduce the frequency, severity and duration of attacks.
Migraine treatment is unique to each patient and depends on many other factors, such as other conditions and a diagnosis. Some common medication types include non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), gepants, triptans, dihydroergotamine (DHE), anti-epileptic drugs (AEDs) and magnesium.
In addition to medications, treatment may involve neuromodulation devices; behavioral therapies such as cognitive behavioral therapy, biofeedback, progressive muscle relaxation, complementary and integrative medicine therapies, and lifestyle modifications. It can take time and a combination of therapeutic approaches to find a treatment plan that works.
10. People With Migraine Have a Higher Risk of Mental Health Conditions
Migraine is associated with a higher risk of developing anxiety or depression. The constant pain, disruption and unpredictability of attacks is anxiety-provoking. People with the disease often wonder if their next attack will interfere with personal plans or their ability to work. The lack of understanding surrounding it can put a strain on relationships. Family members and friends may not understand why someone with this disease needs to frequently cancel or change plans. These factors alone don’t cause diagnoses of depression or anxiety. But the current idea is that there are shared pathways in the brain between migraine, anxiety, depression and sleep.
Without a medical diagnosis for depression and anxiety, migraine can lead to a huge emotional burden. People with this disease may have to consistently mitigate conflict or worry they will lose their job due to stigma. Living with the disease can be extremely isolating, and it’s important that patients have strong support systems in their community.
Armed with this information, you can be part of the solution and advocate for those with migraine. Take steps today to help educate others about the impact of this disease using the 10 surprising facts listed above. With these, you can spread awareness for the importance of migraine accommodations in your workplace. Suggest ways you and your colleagues can make your workplace more migraine-friendly, including establishing an education program.
Migraine is a highly pervasive, disabling disease that can significantly impact a person’s quality of life. Increasing awareness of this disease and creating environments where people feel comfortable sharing how they’re affected by this disease can help provide the support and care they need.