Top Ten Facts on Migraine for Beginners
1. Migraine is a real neurological disease
Okay, we feel like we must repeat this one over and over again. Migraine is still perceived in many parts of the world as a psychiatric disease, or as a made-up excuse to avoid work or social interactions. In the old days people said «it’s all in your head»…now we know that «it’s all in your brain!».
2. Migraine is more than a headache
Migraine is not only a headache. It is accompanied by other symptoms like sensitivity to light, sounds, smells and movement. Also, nausea and vomiting may occur. Brain fog, dizziness, neck pain are common. Some patients may experience an aura with strange visual symptoms.
3. Migraine is a chemical and electrical phenomenon in the brain
The predisposition for migraine is genetic, but from a combination of genes. That probably explains why migraine is so variable. Even in between attacks, the migraine brain is hypersensitive to sensations, and it processes serotonin differently. During an attack, different zones of the brain get activated. A cascade of events leads to the release of inflammatory molecules near the sensitive nerves inside the skull.
4. Migraine is invisible on imaging studies
CT scans, MRIs….you’ve had it all? All normal? At least, you don’t have a tumor, right? The mechanisms of migraine are chemical and electrical. They cannot be seen on standard brain imaging. And that contributes to the disbelief and stigma. «Can you prove that you have migraine»? Luckily, science has made progress and we know now many mechanisms causing migraine attacks.
5. Migraine is VERY common
12% of the world’s population has migraine, women more than men (3/1). 1 to 2% have chronic migraine (a severe form). 10% of children have migraine. The World Health Organization recognizes migraine as the third most common disease in the world (just after dental cavities and… tension headache).
6. Migraine can be disabling
OK, it’s common… but really, is it a health problem? Yes, it is. According to the World Health Organization, a migraine attack is classified with the most disabling health events (along with quadriplegia and schizophrenia). Because it affects so many people during their productive years, migraine is ranked as the second cause of years lived with disability, way above other health conditions. NO, it’s not a benign little problem.
7. Migraine is extremely variable
Is migraine always terribly disabling? Does every person with migraine have nausea and aura? Are all migraines sensitive to hormones? No. Migraine is extremely variable and that makes the diagnosis and management challenging. Triggers, symptoms, severity, and response to therapy are all variable from one person to the other. A personalized approach is warranted!
8. Migraine is stigmatized…but things are getting better
«It’s all in your head, it’s your stress» or «were you really that sick yesterday? You seem fine now!» Disbelief, doubts and negativity are common when it comes to migraine. A lot of this was a direct consequence of the invisibility of the mechanisms. But luckily, there is progress now.
9. Migraine cannot be cured, but it can be controlled
«My cousin tried this 100% migraine fix and never had a migraine ever after». The world of migraine is plagued by myths and scams. People with migraine have always been the targets for charlatans or just well-intended preachers. Medicine is complex, migraine is variable. The golden rule is no-cure-no-one-size-fits-all. Navigating the treatment options for migraine is a challenge, and we will try to help you with that.
10. If you have migraine, you’re not alone!
A sentence frequently heard in migraine clinics is «I feel like no one understands what I am going through». Feeling isolated adds to the suffering. As we have explained, migraine is a very common problem, a real one and patients must speak up and unite to promote better care. That’s the goal of Migraine Canada.