Living with migraines: ‘It’s a chronic disease… I will retreat to a dark room for hours on end’
A new survey released by the Migraine Association of Ireland (MAI) says that 32% of respondents reported losing 12 days or more due to migraines each month. RTÉ broadcaster and mother of two, Evanne Ní Chuilinn spoke to IMAGE.ie about dealing with them frequently as she highlights a new campaign – #TameYourMigraine – to raise more awareness about what is a chronic condition.
The MAI defines migraine “a complex neurological condition” which affects approximately 12-15% of the Irish population, or roughly half a million people in Ireland. It is Ireland’s fifth leading cause of disability and while it affects people of all ages, figures show migraine is three times more common in women than in men. Migraine remains a misunderstood and under-managed condition, despite the high number affected by it.
Dr Martin Ruttledge, Consultant Neurologist, Beaumont Hospital and The Hermitage Clinic, explained in a little more detail that a migraine is caused by a “hypersensitivity of nerves within the brain, typically leading to headache and many other neurological symptoms.”
Migraines can come and go but for the majority, they are chronic and debilitating and can and do affect every aspect of daily life from work, social life and relationships with family and friends. “It is not strictly caused by anything, but it is a biological predisposition or susceptibility in some people, and it can be triggered by many factors including hormones, fasting, sleep alteration, weather, and stress,” Dr Ruttledge added. “Migraine patients typically have a headache and several other neurological symptoms with attacks (neck stiffness, light sensitivity, and so on).”
“I experienced my first migraine when I was just six. I described pain in my eyebrows to my mum and I was squinting,” explained Evanne, who has been dealing with frequent migraines her entire life. “It developed into a very bad sensory experience. Throughout my teens and university years, I would regularly have to go home early from a class, a day trip or a night out because of migraine. My triggers include smoky atmospheres (pre-smoking ban!), bright lights, chlorine and noise – I remember often getting a migraine as a child after a swimming class. In more recent years, I find that tiredness, stress and dehydration are triggers too.”
The condition is one that many are very much still in the dark about; dismissing a migraine as a simple headache is wrong first and foremost, and she says this is why #TameYourMigraine exists. “If people knew that it’s a condition that debilitates the patient entirely, that would be a start. I’ve definitely ploughed on at work or at social occasions simply because I didn’t want to be seen as lazy or as a party pooper. If people understood that this is a chronic disease, we wouldn’t feel like a nuisance when an attack hits.”
They [the attacks] can be intermittent, she says, or when they get especially bad she can experience multiple attacks very close together. “Some months I experience six or seven migraine attacks while other months are better and I may only have two episodes. Ten years ago I spoke to my doctor about migraine prevention which has been life-changing, though hasn’t ended my migraine attacks completely. Staying hydrated and relaxing in a dark, quiet room is still what works best for me.”