A migraine is so much more than a bad headache: hope for sufferers as cures are researched

With research into methods to help sufferers on the rise, will people finally start to understand the difference between a throbbing hangover head and an excruciating migraine?

I knew there was a significant difference between a migraine and a headache when I was CT scanned for stroke damage and temporarily diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. It was after a severe bout of migraines erupted in a three-week period.

Sufferers or 'migraineurs' if you want to sound less debilitated, haven't got the richest wealth of medication to hand. It works on more of a trial-and-error-kill-two-birds-with-one-stone basis. Beta blockers, antidepressants and anti-epileptic medications were accidentally found to relieve the debilitating headaches, as well as triptans for acute attacks, although it is not 100 per cent clear how these work, or which ones will suit who best.

So when surgery was touted as a possible cure after plastic surgeon Dr Bahman Guyuron reported that patients who underwent facial rejuvenation procedures found that one of the side effects was migraine relief, sufferers were offered a (short lived) glimmer of hope.

Unfortunately research into the procedure has concluded that there is insufficient evidence to support such claims. Multiple flaws were found in the methods of study, surgery was deemed too risky, and the general idea behind the procedure doesn't click with what we know about the underlying causes of migraine.

High activity: a brain scan taken during a migraine attack. High activity: a brain scan taken during a migraine attack Since Guyuron's research, surgeons have sought to pioneer new approaches to migraine surgery or 'nerve decompression' depending on where they believe the trigger to be – in most cases this 'trigger' is understood to be caused by the interaction of the corrugator muscle above the eyebrows, and the trigeminal nerve that runs from the brain to the mouth and face. The surgery itself sounds like something of a gruesome lobotomy. It involves either making an incision and damaging the nerve so it can no longer be stimulated, or removing segments of the corrugator muscle itself.

Dr Jud Pearson, a headache specialist at the National Migraine Centre has found that most patients who have trialled the surgery have not been relieved of migraines.

"The clinics who are doing the surgery think that this is the trigger – the rest don't think it is. Their theory was that if botox freezes muscle and you get three months of relief, then take the muscle out altogether and it will be permanent. That has not been shown to be the case."

Cefaly Technology's new head band device Other research focuses on the same theory, including the recent sci-fi looking headband, Cefaly. This works by applying neurostimulation to the trigeminal nerve. An electrode is positioned on the forehead and connects to the headband. Micro-impulses stimulate the trigeminal’s nerve endings to produce a relaxing effect.

Although in its early stages, the device is thought to have been successful in reducing the frequency of migraines for around 40 per cent of sufferers so far.
 
Migraines affect one in seven people in the UK, and it is estimated that 190,000 people have an attack every day – a figure that is up two per cent on last year. The frequency and severity varies from person to person, but statistics show that women are three times more likely to get migraines than men – and this is not always hormone related.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has rated migraines among the 20 most incapacitating lifetime conditions, comparable to dementia and active psychosis.

Sadly, despite the vast number of sufferers and the debilitating effects, in the UK migraines are the least publicly funded of all neurological disorders. Pearson says: "Funding is pretty limited. Migraine is right up there with the other illnesses like HIV and cancer. These are huge illnesses that affect millions of people so it shows you how much of a burden migraines are on health worldwide, yet the amount of money and research plugged into it does not reflect that in any way."

It is perhaps this lack of funding, and in turn a lack of awareness, that are the culprits for the non-migraineur's belief that it's just a headache – easily banished by popping nothing more than a Sainsbury's basic paracetamol.

One of the questions Pearson's asks her patients, to determine between a tension headache and a migraine is: "Can you function?"

In short - no, if it's a migraine. For me, the pain is always excruciating and I'm always temporarily blinded or experience kaleidoscopic vision. I've had migraines where I couldn't speak – I could hear the word ‘water’ in my head but just couldn't pronounce it (Waiter? Waater? Witter?) – migraines where I've lost feeling in my hands, migraines that nearly made me pass out and migraines where I've thrown up a sea of insides.

Nausea, constipation, diahorrea and sometimes aura symptoms such as visual disturbances, numbness and or tingling that precede the headache are all normal, and some sufferers can endure the pain and aftermath for up to 72 hours after the attack. Not recognisable symptoms of your bog standard headache.

Causes are somewhat of an enigma and can range from eating chocolate, cheese or red wine, walking through the perfume counter in Debenham's, to a combination of factors coming together such as that trusty friend in the red coat, a night spent tossing and turning, skipping lunch, and an imminent thunder storm. I've had them before periods, after playing on Xbox, in the middle of the night, sunbathing on the beach and after a flight. Try working that one out.

Although the surgical approach may sound like a quack invention, so too may a one off jab and magnetic pulse headbands, it gives hope to sufferers of this poorly misunderstood illness, and if it's not a breakthrough, then at least an awareness of its severity may stop others tutting in ignorance.

Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookA delicious collection of 50 meaty main courses
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Business Analyst - 12 Month FTC - Entry Level

    £23000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Business Analyst is required ...

    Recruitment Genius: Chefs - All Levels

    £16000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: To succeed, you will need to ha...

    Recruitment Genius: Maintenance Engineer

    £8 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join an award winni...

    Recruitment Genius: Telesales Executive & Customer Service - Call Centre Jobs!

    £7 - £9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: Are you outgoing? Do you want to work in...

    Day In a Page

    Isis in Syria: Influential tribal leaders hold secret talks with Western powers and Gulf states over possibility of mobilising against militants

    Tribal gathering

    Influential clans in Syria have held secret talks with Western powers and Gulf states over the possibility of mobilising against Isis. But they are determined not to be pitted against each other
    Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge: A growing population and a compromised and depleted aquifer leaves water in scarce supply for Palestinians

    Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge

    A growing population and a compromised and depleted aquifer leaves water in scarce supply for Palestinians
    Dozens of politicians, bureaucrats and businessmen linked to Indian bribery scandal die mysteriously

    Illnesses, car crashes and suicides

    Dozens of politicians, bureaucrats and businessmen linked to Indian bribery scandal die mysteriously
    Srebrenica 20 years after the genocide: Why the survivors need closure

    Bosnia's genocide, 20 years on

    No-one is admitting where the bodies are buried - literally and metaphorically
    How Comic-Con can make or break a movie: From Batman vs Superman to Star Wars: Episode VII

    Power of the geek Gods

    Each year at Comic-Con in San Diego, Hollywood bosses nervously present blockbusters to the hallowed crowd. It can make or break a movie
    What do strawberries and cream have to do with tennis?

    Perfect match

    What do strawberries and cream have to do with tennis?
    10 best trays

    Get carried away with 10 best trays

    Serve with ceremony on a tray chic carrier
    Wimbledon 2015: Team Murray firing on all cylinders for SW19 title assault

    Team Murray firing on all cylinders for title assault

    Coaches Amélie Mauresmo and Jonas Bjorkman aiming to make Scot Wimbledon champion again
    Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - Vasek Pospisil must ignore tiredness and tell himself: I'm in the quarter-final, baby!

    Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

    Vasek Pospisil must ignore tiredness and tell himself: I'm in the quarter-final, baby!
    Ashes 2015: Angus Fraser's top 10 moments from previous series'

    Angus Fraser's top 10 Ashes moments

    He played in five series against Australia and covered more as a newspaper correspondent. From Waugh to Warne and Hick to Headley, here are his highlights
    Greece debt crisis: EU 'family' needs to forgive rather than punish an impoverished state

    EU 'family' needs to forgive rather than punish an impoverished state

    An outbreak of malaria in Greece four years ago helps us understand the crisis, says Robert Fisk
    Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge: The traumatised kibbutz on Israel's front line, still recovering from last summer's war with Hamas

    Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge

    The traumatised kibbutz on Israel's front line, still recovering from last summer's war with Hamas
    How to survive electrical storms: What are the chances of being hit by lightning?

    Heavy weather

    What are the chances of being hit by lightning?
    World Bodypainting Festival 2015: Bizarre and brilliant photos celebrate 'the body as art'

    World Bodypainting Festival 2015

    Bizarre and brilliant photos celebrate 'the body as art'
    alt-j: A private jet, a Mercury Prize and Latitude headliners

    Don't call us nerds

    Craig Mclean meets alt-j - the math-folk act who are flying high