Gender & Identity, Wellness, Life

20 truths people who suffer from migraines understand

No, they aren't just glorified headaches.

As someone who has suffered from migraines for seventeen years of my life, I’ve dealt with my fair share of pain. Just like people, migraines come in all different shapes and sizes. For me, they can often seem like the Greek monster Hydra – as soon as I think I’ve mastered them and figured out my triggers, another one pops up for a completely different reason. According to the Migraine Research Foundation, nearly 1 in 4 United States households includes someone with a migraine.

Here are 20 things that migraine sufferers know to be true:

1. No, it’s not just a regular headache!

A baby panda covers its eyes and lowers its head
[Image Description: A baby panda covers its eyes and lowers its head] Via Giphy.com
Migraines are actually categorized as a neurological condition. Side effects can include nausea, vomiting, sensitivity to lights and smells, an upset stomach, lightheadedness, fatigue, and tinnitus just to name a few. Talk about debilitating. 

2. No, I can’t just take ibuprofen to take the pain away.

A cartoon woman with short hair and a purple shirt rubs her head.
[Image Description: A cartoon woman with short hair and a purple shirt rubs her head] Via Giphy.
Yes, pain medications can help, but sometimes migraines require stronger stuff. While there are pills available, they’re not for everyone as medication can be pretty strong and can have serious side effects. Also if you take too much medication, you can often get rebound headaches. Lucky us. 

3. No, it’s not just a “woman” problem.

A woman looks off into the distance crying.
[Image Description: A woman looks off into the distance crying] Via Giphy.
Migraines affect over 36 million men, women, and children in the US (and there’s little to no research into how it affects trans men, women, and non-binary people).

4. Children get migraines too.

A young child looks around worried with his hands on his head
[Image description: A young child looks around worried with his hands on his head] Via Giphy
I first started getting mine when I was just 11 years old.

5. Migraines don’t just go away eventually on their own.

The pictures zooms into the eye of a cat looking into space stunned. Within its eye is the same cat
[Image description: The pictures zooms into the eye of a cat looking into space stunned] Within its eye is the same cat] Via Giphy.
I’ve been suffering from them since puberty with no end in sight. 

6. There isn’t just one type of migraine.

A man with sunglasses stares at purple and green flashing lights which reflect in his glasses
[Image Description: A man with sunglasses stares at purple and green flashing lights which reflect in his glasses] Via Giphy.com
Some migraines include neck pain or cluster headaches, but some don’t even include a headache. Instead, you get auras which usually means you see flashing lights, zigzag lines, experience partial vision loss, or experience numbness or tingling in your body. 

7. Getting more sleep doesn’t always solve the problem.

Tiana from The Princess and The Frog falls onto a bed, exhausted. She wears a green dress and her hair is falling out of her ponytail
[Image Description: Tiana, a cartoon character from The Princess and The Frog, falls onto a bed, exhausted. She wears a green dress and her hair is falling out of her ponytail] Via Giphy.
Some migraines have multiple triggers and getting more sleep doesn’t always mean the pain will go away the next day.

8. Similarly, it’s not always stress related!

A woman rubs her forehead and then her temples while looking stressed out
[Image Description: A woman rubs her forehead and then her temples while looking stressed out] Via Giphy.com
People who get migraines are not just highly stressed out people who need to chill.

9. Basically, there isn’t just one cause of migraines.

Jafar from Aladdin unrolls a long list that hits the Sultan's feet
[Image Description: Jafar from Aladdin, wearing red and black robes, unrolls a long list that hits the throne, which the Sultan, wearing white robes, is sitting on] Via Giphy.
These babies can be triggered by stress, fatigue, certain types of food, dehydration, changes in weather pressure, alcohol – the list goes on and on. 

10. No, I’m not faking sick.

A man look up at the ceiling, rolls his eyes and says Ahchoo
[Image Description: A man look up at the ceiling, rolls his eyes and says Ah-choo] Via Giphy
I’m not lazy and I’m not trying to avoid an event. I legitimately can’t move and wish my whole day wasn’t being wasted lying in bed, in pain. 

11. It’s not about drinking too much caffeine.

A cat pours itself a cup of coffee, its hands shaking from too much caffeine
[Image Description: The cartoon cat Sylvester pours itself a cup of coffee, its hands shaking from too much caffeine] Via Giphy.com
Coffee drinkers don’t get migraines more than others. In some cases, caffeine can actually help

12. Migraines don’t always end after just a few hours or a day.

A pink rabbit hits a drum as it rolls through a desert
[Image Description: The pink Energizer rabbit hits a drum as it rolls through a desert] Via Giphy.com
For some people, it’s a chronic issue. Some migraines can go on for days, months, or even years

13. They can have lasting effects – sometimes life-threatening ones.

A woman stumbles and falls near the bottom of the stairs, holding onto the bannister. She clutches her chest
[Image Description: A woman stumbles and falls near the bottom of the stairs, holding onto the banister. She clutches her chest] Via Giphy.
Though migraines aren’t life-threatening on their own, continuous migraines can lead to a higher risk of suicide, a greater chance of cardiac disease, and an increased risk of stroke. Migraines also can cause permanent brain damage over time. 

14. The little things CAN help.

A woman lays in bed with an ice pack on her head. She settles under the covers
[Image Description: A woman lays in bed with an ice pack on her head. She settles under the covers] Via Giphy.
Cold cloths or ice packs on the head, taking a nap in a dark room, essential oils, and (pro tip) eating frozen grapes can help alleviate symptoms during an attack. Some who suffer from migraines often use non-pharmacologic treatments like acupuncture and say this can be a big help too.

15. There are some DIY remedies that help too.

A person massages a kitten’s shoulders
[Image Description: A person massages a kitten’s shoulders as it sits upright] Via Giphy.com
There are a few at-home remedies you can make at home or buy over the counter to help with symptoms. A lavender-infused rice bag on your head can do wonders, especially if you put it in the freezer for half an hour or so. Sometimes essential oils under your nose or rubbed on your temples can be nice. Gentle massages can also help if the pain if you have a willing friend or partner! Try putting together a mental health kit to help you deal with your attacks. 

16. Sometimes you can stop a migraine in its tracks.

Awkwafina, an American rapper, looks confident, holding a trophy while confetti rains down on her
[Image Description: Awkwafina, an American rapper, looks confident, holding a trophy while confetti rains down on her] Via Giphy.
One of the pluses of having chronic migraines is that you can often sense it coming and sometimes, stop a migraine before it arrives. When you can do this, you feel like a champion!

17. Keeping track of your attacks can be useful!

A red knitted creature with pink pointed ears, a pink face and pig-snout sits at a desk writing in a notebook
[Image Description: A red knitted creature with pink pointed ears, a pink face and pig-snout sits at a desk writing in a notebook] Via Giphy.
There are a few tools out there, such as the app Migraine Buddy, which creates records of attacks, tracks your sleep schedule, and lets you list possible day-to-day triggers. You can also keep a migraine journal. 

18. The problems don’t end with the migraine.

April Ludgate, a character from Parks and Recreation, has two pillows taped around her head. She lowers her head to the desk in pain
[Image Description: April Ludgate, a character from Parks and Recreation, has two pillows taped around her head. She lowers her head to the desk in pain] Via Giphy.
Many people suffer from both prodromes (warning signs of a migraine) and postdromes (a “migraine hangover”). Both can vary person to person, making it hard to pinpoint.

19. There are plenty of resources to turn to.

A woman paces as she reads a script, holding a highlighter in her mouth
[Image Description: Jane, a character from Jane the Virgin, paces as she reads a script, holding a highlighter in her mouth.] Via Giphy.com
The American Migraine Foundation has free educational guides that are all available online. There are also many books written on the topic, such as Migraine by Oliver Sacks, Migraine Brains and Bodies: A Comprehensive Guide to Solving the Mystery of Your Migraines by C. M. Shifflett, and Heal Your Headache: The 1 – 2 -3 Program For Taking Charge of Your Pain by David Buccholz and Stephen G. Reich.

20. It’s the little things that count.

A woman sitting in a church pew raises her hands saying, Hallelujah
[Image Description: Xiomara, a female character from Jane the Virgin, sits in a church pew and raises her hands saying, Hallelujah.] Via Giphy.com
Once the effects do pass, you appreciate your migraine-free moments that much more. It’s a lesson in self-awareness and gratitude.