You’re typing on your computer and suddenly a little flicker appears in your field of vision. You focus on the text and pull yourself closer to the screen. But no luck; the flicker is still there. Hoping to clear your vision, you rest your eyes for a minute.
But even with your eyes closed, you still see the constant flicker. You decide that a break and walk outside might help. After all, in this coronavirus pandemic, we’ve all been spending too much time in front of a screen.
While walking, the tiny flicker grows steadily and starts looking like a growing crescent moon with a kaleidoscope center. You panic and book an urgent appointment with your eye doctor thinking you might be losing your vision. But, after 30 minutes, your vision returns to normal. Then, it hits — a massive headache — the worst you’ve ever had.
After visiting the ophthalmologist (a doctor who specializes in eye and vision care) and confirming your perfect eye health, he suggests you visit a neurologist. He suspects you experienced a migraine with aura.
Migraines by the numbers
Migraine is the third most prevalent ailment worldwide. In the U.S., 39 million men, women and children are afflicted with migraines, according to the Migraine Research Foundation. Women are three times more likely to suffer from migraines than men and make up 85% of chronic migraine sufferers. And women of reproductive age are 37% more likely to experience migraines, since many migraines are connected to hormonal changes, according to migraine researchers.
Migraines can be debilitating. The severe pain can negatively impact a person’s work, school and home life. Costs for people who suffer from migraines are significant. They pay added costs for over-the-counter drugs, prescription medications, and medical visit co-pays. Medical bills for families with a household member suffering from migraines are 70% higher. Lost work production and added medical expenses linked to migraines costs Americans $36 billion since 90% of migraine sufferers are unable to work while having a migraine, according to the Migraine Research Foundation.
Ouch! This is no regular headache
Many say a migraine is the, “worst headache I’ve ever had.” The pain is described as a throbbing located on a specific side of the head and can last from a couple of hours to several days. At times, migraine pain comes with nausea, dizziness, numbness in the face or extremities and sensibility to light, noise and odors.
There are two main types of migraines — those with or without aura. Recognizing which type or types of migraines you have will help your doctor find your best treatment options.
A migraine without aura is also known as a “common migraine,” affecting about 75% of sufferers. This type of migraine usually starts without warning and generally affects one side of the body. It can last anywhere from four to 72 hours.
Migraines with an aura, or “classic migraines,” are linked with visual changes. These migraines cause visual flashes of light, blind spots and kaleidoscope-like visions. Aura migraines affect about 25% of migraine sufferers.
There are also migraine subtypes:
Abdominal migraines, commonly seen in children and adolescents, present with stomach pain and nausea.
Brainstem aura migraines are usually located at the back base of the head on one or both sides. These migraines are usually connected with visual disturbances.
Chronic migraines affect sufferers for 15 or more days each month and happen for more than three months.
Hemiplegic migraines cause paralysis on one side of the body which usually lasts less than 72 hours and can be present with a visual aura.
Menstrual migraines usually affect women two to three days before or after a menstrual period. These types of migraines do not present with an aura.
Ocular or retinal migraines are rare and come with temporary visual impairments that include flashes of light, colors, partial or full vision loss in one eye.
Vestibular migraines are accompanied by dizziness, a loss of balance or spinning feeling that last a few minutes to a few hours.
What triggers a migraine?
Dr. Loveneet Singh, a board-certified neurologist with Community Neurology and Pulmonary Medical Group, says it’s important to understand and track your migraine triggers. “You have to know what your triggers are. If you maintain a calendar and write your triggers, you can figure out that you were sleep deprived or over-sleeping. So you learn that you have to keep a fixed sleeping schedule.”
Singh says keeping a daily record of your activity, food and timing of your migraines will help you notice patterns, or triggers, connected to your attacks. Sharing this information with your doctor can help inform you both about changes to take to help decrease migraines.
A migraine episode can be treated with either over-the-counter or prescription medications. Medications for non-chronic migraines can be treated with pain relief medicines, ergotamines (drugs that narrow the blood vessels around the brain) and triptans (drugs that constrict blood vessels in the brain, slow down inflammation, and block pain pathways). If you take over-the-counter remedies more than nine times a month for migraine episodes you should consider preventative medications. Your doctor may also suggest a once-a-month preventative option.