The exact cause of migraines is unknown, although today, it is thought to be the result of temporary changes in the chemicals, nerves and blood vessels in the brain.
Migraine affects more women than men. The prevalence of migraine is three times more common in women than in men. The condition can begin as early as childhood with attacks occurring more commonly between the ages of 20 and 50 and even younger. In fact, besides being the sixth most prevalent illness, it is also the second most debilitating condition after back pain and the first cause of disability in people between 15 and 49 years old.
“When it comes to migraine, the issues are many. The first one is that there is a lack of general awareness among the public of what migraine is,” explains neurologist Ruth Galea, lead of the Migraine Clinic at Mater Dei Hospital set up purposely for those who suffer from chronic migraines.
“The misconception is that migraines are just a worse type of headache when, in fact, migraines are a chronic neurological disorder that is affecting over a billion people across the world where the prevalence of migraine is approximately 10 per cent of the entire population. It is a disorder that is many times underdiagnosed, more than half the patients who complain of severe and regular headaches, are in fact, suffering from migraines.”
Galea continues that migraine has become one of the top 10 leading causes of years lived with disability worldwide.
“Those who suffer from migraines know how debilitating this condition is. Some people get migraines four to five times a month or more, which deeply impacts their work and their personal life and their lifestyle,” she says.
The pain, which in certain cases could last between four to 72 hours, consists of moderate to severe pain intensity described as ‘throbbing’ and is most times accompanied by disabling symptoms such as nausea, vomiting and sensory disturbances.
Some personal experiences:
Loreta Xuereb Scicluna started getting headaches when she was 12 years old but she started having migraines at the age of 15.
“Strong-flavoured cheese was my main trigger but after a couple of years, I also noticed oranges would sometimes trigger them too. So, I keep away from them both.
“I usually get my migraines in the evening or wake up with them with the most common symptoms being intense pain, dizziness and nausea which compel me to stay home. If I happen to be out, I make it a point to get myself home as soon as possible, especially if I’m driving. I manage my migraines using pain meds, ice packs, hot and cold showers, as well as an ointment I got from Thailand. And I lay down in a dark room and I meditate.”
Philip Cassar Torreggiani lives a healthy lifestyle. He works as a manager within a food production factory and keeps himself active in his spare time, taking his dog for long walks and long cycles on the weekend.
Education on how migraine can be avoided could help people
“My migraines started about nine years ago and relatively out of the blue and I never really found the cause. I get headaches usually after a bad night of sleep, when I try to ‘switch off’ and relax after work, and with any form of alcohol,” he shares.
His most common symptoms consist of significant pain behind his left eye.
“The largest impact is on my health because there’s nothing worse than being in pain and it’s frustrating as it limits me from doing activities. It also impacts me socially, as sometimes I’m compelled to change plans. Nowadays, I manage my migraine with a strict sleep and dietary regime which I find helpful and also with some daily medication.”
Sara Vella is a doctor who started suffering from migraines when she was 12. She recalls that her migraines used to be often triggered by stress, skipped meals, sleep deprivation or menses.
“My most common symptoms during a migraine attack would typically involve right supraorbital pain, stabbing in nature and intense, and associated photophobia and phonophobia,” she says.
“Being a doctor means that most days I need to function at work and work my on-calls at night, regardless of a migraine. Of course, the work environment tends to exacerbate things and at home, I try to abort my migraine before the next working day.”
Notwithstanding her migraines, Vella rarely misses her social events because migraines have now become a normal part of her life so she avoids alcohol and loud places when she feels a migraine coming and manages the pain with daily medication.
“Adequate GP training to recognise migraines, to know when to treat them and when to refer, could contribute towards creating more awareness about migraine. More education in schools could help students, teachers and parents be better informed about this condition and how it affects sufferers,” she notes.
Sandra Conti has been suffering from migraine attacks since her teenage years, mostly triggered by wine, chocolate, cheese and some stress.
“The pain is very sudden and it feels like someone is drilling constantly into the middle of my temples. I also feel nausea and end up vomiting which forces me to stay in bed alone in the quiet and darkness,” she says.
“Occasionally, I spend a whole day on my own which impacts family time and my mental well-being.”
Conti tries to treat her migraine with a combination of tablets but when the pain feels uncontrollable, she feels she would have taken the tablets in vain.
“Education on how migraine can be avoided could help people. And those who have hereditary tendencies should seek treatment options in anticipation of debilitating triggers,” she says.
This article was provided by Vivian, which has launched a new treatment that can be prescribed for the prevention and treatment of both acute and chronic migraines.