Women & Migraines: How Big is The Problem?

how can women
tackle migraine headaches & what are the causes
There are few things more impeding than
physical pain. As migraine sufferers will attest, migraine headaches can
cause the

fast pace of life to slow dramatically and, many times, can
even bring things to a screeching halt.

addition to producing vast, physical discomfort, migraine headaches
also interrupt daily routines and postpone important commitments,
causing many sufferers to feel frustrated and less in control of their
Dr. Michael Sellman, Chief of
Neurology at Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore, Maryland, reports that
migraine headaches are routinely the most frequent medical complaint
seen in his office.
“Migraine headaches
typically begin in adolescence or young adult life. They can be genetic
in nature and inherited from mother or father.”
both women and men suffer from these headaches, Sellman reports that
women tend to be more likely to experience migraines at some point
during their lives. “Women get migraine headaches three times more often
than men. It is estimated that 15% of all women get migraine headaches
and 5% of all men,” explains Sellman.
are multiple causes of migraine headaches. About 15% of migraines occur
shortly before a woman’s menstrual cycle. Certain foods have been
implicated to trigger a migraine. These include chocolate, strong
cheese, onions, oranges and tomatoes. Red wine and sometimes beer
frequently precipitates a migraine attack. Rapid changes in barometric
pressure (impending rain storm) can trigger a migraine headache,” says
For many individuals who suffer
from migraines, stress is both a symptom and a trigger. Stress can cause
migraines and obviously migraines produce extreme stress.
Bayle, an editor and project manager, who has experienced migraine
headaches since middle school, describes the onset of a migraine as a
full-body experience.
“Migraines are
horrible, full-body pain experiences. During an attack, my body
vibrates, and I feel like I am being simultaneously jabbed with pins
while my head is slammed against a concrete wall over and over and over.
Even the quietest noises begin to sound like bombs imploding. But the
pain is not the worst part.”
Bayle goes
on to explain that, in her opinion, the worst thing about having to deal
with migraines is the stigma attached the debilitating effects they
cause and the fact that this particular ailment can be so difficult to
“Doctors, even in this advanced
age of medicine, still don’t totally understand migraines, and treatment
is still limited. We live in a society where personal responsibility is
valued above all else. If I had a dollar for every time a doctor,
friend, coworker, or family member asked me why I have so many headaches
and why I can’t just ‘get over’ them, implying (or sometimes outright
stating) that this is my fault or a simply matter of will, I would be
the richest woman alive. You learn to live with debilitating pain
because you have to, and then because you are able to live with it,
people question if it’s really that bad—it is, and the weight of others’
lack of understanding is almost as bad as a migraine,” she says.
Jennifer Engle, owner of a marketing and communications company, also feels the affects of these debilitating headaches.
describes the onset of the headaches she experiences as well as the
restrictions she has had to learn to live with as a result of the
physical discomfort:
“Sometimes migraines
wake me up in the middle of the night, generally with a throbbing pain
that starts in the back of my head and moves to above one eye. The pain
is excruciating. Any type of light is painful, and often I am nauseated
(sometimes to the point of throwing up). I also frequently get chills.
Basically, with all these symptoms, I am miserable and find it very
difficult to concentrate on anything.”
agrees that taking migraine medication can be helpful sometimes, but
isn’t a guaranteed remedy by any means (nor is much else when it comes
to migraines).
“I do take medication
(carry it with me all the time) at the onset, when possible. Usually, it
takes 45 minutes to an hour to have any effect. Often, the symptoms get
worse before they get better – depending on when in the headache cycle I
take them. [The pills] do ease the pain, making it somewhat bearable
but I am frequently very tired for a day or so after. If you don’t have
medication, migraines can last a day or more. Generally, I try to sleep
them off. 
It’s a matter of getting to a bed in a dark room. I have to
force myself to be calm (not an easy task with the pain) and try to
relax enough to fall asleep. I’ve been known to go into a dark closet or
put on sunglasses if I’m at work and have to get something done. It’s
very frustrating to have migraines as they never happen at convenient
While medications that target
migraine headaches are available, Dr. Sellman advises that migraine
suffers speak to a physician, as migraines affect each sufferer
differently. “It is reasonable to see a doctor to confirm this diagnosis
and make sure the headache disorder is not due to some other cause.
headaches can be prevented with medication. Medication to prevent
migraines works very well for the majority of patients. These
medications need to be prescribed by a physician.
physical examination is necessary before a prescription could be given
and follow up monitoring for complications is necessary. A newer
treatment that is having some success in preventing migraine is Botox
injections,” advises Sellman.
Sellman points out that medication used to prevent migraines is usually
reported to be effective, he also suggests that lifestyle changes be
made to prevent migraines.
headaches can be prevented in part by a healthy lifestyle. Patients
should be encouraged to eat small frequent meals to avoid hunger.
stress should be reduced as much as possible. Lack of sleep can cause a
headache disorder to worsen. A frequently underappreciated cause can be
too much sleep. Therefore do not sleep 10 hours on a weekend if
headaches are a problem,” he says.
can be triggered by a variety of conditions and situations and are
generally acknowledged to be similarly unpredictable in their affect on
One fact that migraine
suffers (and anyone who has experienced the effects of debilitating
physical pain) do acknowledge is the significant limitations these
headaches place on day to day life.
Kasoff, President and CEO of Women Impacting Public Policy (WIPP),
speaks to the stresses caused by migraine headaches and the facts that
individuals who experience migraines (especially women) have to deal
with as a part of everyday life.
affect women in a much greater proportion, and while, incapacitating to
all, the ripple effect is much more dramatic for them. When a migraine
strikes a woman, unfortunately way too frequently her obligations can’t
just be put ‘on hold.’ Family obligations continue on – children still
need to get to that important soccer game and snack and dinner are a
must for them; days off at work are precious and, if a business owner,
responsibility to staff and payroll are always top of mind. Migraines
are often difficult to ‘power through’ and the frequent result is added
stress to family and business life. As is the case with many medical
issues, more funding needs to go to research.”
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