Pain so bad you forget your sister's name -- that's a migraine
By Emily Jensen
A migraine attacked Jennifer Renea Ryszka at age 12. As a college sophomore, she has now experienced more than 50 migraines.
The first one scared her. The Ryszka family had just purchased a dome tent, and she was as excited as her siblings to sleep in it when they had set the tent up in their living room.
The next morning the pain started.
"At the beginning of my headache, I saw squiggly lines go across my eyes and bright dots of light. Then the pain began. It was very odd," Ryszka said.
She thought she was going to die.
"My mom tried to explain to me that I was having a migraine and what that meant. But, because of the pain, I couldn't understand or comprehend anything my mom had said," she explained.
The headache proceeded to get worse and worse, and Ryszka became more and more scared. Her hands and face went numb and she lost her speech.
"I knew what I wanted to say, but I couldn't process it into words. I couldn't even remember my older sister's name" Ryszka said.
Ryszka finally was taken to the emergency room. "There they didn't think anything was wrong with me. They sent me home without a diagnosis," she said.
More than 26 million Americans suffer from migraines. And according to the American Medical Association, recurring headaches rank seventh among patient complaints.
A migraine is "an excruciating, painful headache that often leaves its victims almost completely debilitated," said David J. Murrow of the New York Times.
And the Post Graduate Medicine magazine said, "Researchers think that a migraine begins with electrical and chemical disturbances in the brain. These lead to inflammation of the blood vessels, resulting in pain."
According to the American Council for Headache Education, or ACHE, found at http://www.achenet.org, nearly 90 percent of men and 95 percent of women have had at least one headache in the last year. And as many as 6 percent of all men and up to 18 percent of all women have a migraine headache during their lifetime. Nearly three out of four migraine sufferers are female.
When Ryszka has a migraine, she feels as if her brain "is being compressed by the weight of a dump truck," she said.
Ryszka has a migraine about once a month, and this causes her to believe they are related to her menstrual cycle. But Ryszka explains that stress and lack of sleep have also caused migraines. She said that her mother, grandmother and brother all suffer from migraines, so genetics may be connected. Ryszka also has learned to shy from eating too much chocolate, cheese and citric foods.
Another migraine sufferer, Melissa Bloyer, explains that her migraines didn't start until she was on a contraceptive pill.
The AMA backs Ryszka's and Bloyer's theories but explains that the cause of migraines is still uncertain. But the AMA does maintain that the fluctuating and declining estrogen levels during the menstrual cycle are throught to play a major role in causing some women's migraines and that oral contraceptives can also provoke migraines in some women. Another cause could be that stress and too little or too much sleep could trigger a migraine as well. The AMA explains that migraines can be found in other family members and is often hereditary. The AMA also recommends migraine sufferers to avoid alcohol, especially red wine; foods with monosodium glutamate (MSG); and aged cheeses.
Some of the symptoms Ryszka experiences before and during her migraines include seeing curvy lines and bright lights in front of her eyes, followed by numbness and sometimes nausea. Then the pain comes, "and if I get one really bad, I lose coordination, concentration and speech," she said.
Bloyer said that as the migraine pain begins, the veins in the side of her head bulge out.
Before a migraine, Bloyer will get light-headed and feel as if she is flying high on drugs. "I hate the light-headed feeling because I feel I am out of control," she said.
Ryszka also hates the pre-migraine symptoms of lights and lines. "I would rather endure the pain then have to deal with those weird feelings," she said.
Ryszka has combated her migraines in different ways throughout the last seven years, including downing eight Ibuprofen pills, drinking coffee, lying down in a dark room and taking Tylenol with codeine mixed with a morphine-like nasal spray called Stadol. Ryszka once took six aspirin, and while it quickly killed the migraine, it also caused hives to break out all over her face the next morning.
She now takes Excedrin Migraine and explains that it has been successful in stopping her attacks.
Ryszka explains that her migraines have affected her abilities in school and work, making everything harder. She explains that while some non-migraine sufferers misuse the excuse of having migraines to go home, others just treat migraine sufferers as if they had some kind of cold.
"I have definitely felt that people were unsympathetic toward me. My brothers never understood what was wrong with me and would often be really loud when I was trying to get over a headache," said Ryszka. "Many people don't realize the kind of pain that is associated with migraines."
This is the problem, according to various migraine doctors and drug-makers, that many consumers do not fully understand what a migraine is, and therefore do not seek proper treatment.
According to the AMA, the more one understands migraines and available treatments, the better one can control a migraine's impact.
"Patients haave to be able to recognize that they have a migraine and need prescription medicine," said Stephen O'Quinn, senior clinical program director for migraines at Glaxo Wellcome, which makes the migraine drug Imitex. "They have to understand that migraine headaches are a disease."
With proper identification of migraine and pre-migraine symptoms, doctors can help migraine sufferers determine which medications will help prevent and treat migraine attacks.
"There are medications now that are strong enough that if you take them early enough in the migraine, you can feel fine for the rest of the day. I feel bad, because I used to be so demanding when I got a headache," said Ryszka. "My family has been very caring and patient throughout the years."