Representative image
Representative image

The silent epidemic upending lives

As we observe Migraine Awareness Month this June, TNIE examines how migraine leaves millions impaired

KOCHI: In the quiet corners of our bustling lives, a silent epidemic brews — a relentless storm leaving its victims in the dark. Migraines, often dismissed as ‘just a headache,’ are a debilitating neurological condition affecting millions worldwide. For those who endure it, it’s far more than a mere inconvenience. It’s a battle against an invisible enemy that disrupts daily life, impairs productivity, and diminishes quality of life. June, designated as Migraine Awareness Month, serves as a beacon, highlighting the challenges faced by sufferers and fostering a community of support and understanding. This observance aims to dispel myths, spread knowledge, and advocate for better treatment and research.

Many patients don’t recognise migraine symptoms, says Dr Dinesh Kamath, a senior neuro-physician at EMC Hospital in Kochi. He recalls a case of a six-year-old girl with recurrent vomiting and abdominal pain. “Though she consulted many doctors, her symptoms persisted. Her parents thought she was faking illness to avoid school. When she again complained of the symptoms, she was referred to me by her paediatrician. I observed that her symptoms were episodic and without a headache. As her symptoms pointed towards an abdominal migraine, she was given migraine prophylactics and her symptoms subsided,” he says.

A migraine is an intense throbbing or pulsating headache, lasting from minutes to days, often accompanied by nausea, vomiting, sensitivity to light and sound, and visual disturbances known as ‘auras.’ These symptoms can be very severe.

Despite being a common neurological disorder, migraines remain shrouded in mystery. The exact cause is not fully understood, but it’s believed to involve a complex interplay of genetic, environmental and neurological factors. Triggers can vary widely, from hormonal changes and certain foods to stress and sensory stimuli, making it a highly individualised condition.

Dr Arun B Nair
Dr Arun B Nair

Types of migraine

Common migraine: It is the most recurrent form where the headache is not accompanied by aura

Classic migraine: When migraine headache is associated with visual or sensory aura. Visual aura can be flashes of light, blind spots or other scintillating phenomena

Silent migraine: In this type, migraine occurs without a headache. There is a typical aura without a headache.

Abdominal migraine: Here, the migraine is usually accompanied by abdominal pain, nausea, and vomiting episodes. It usually doesn’t have a headache as a symptom. This disease is mostly seen in children. Attacks can last from two to 72 hours.

Hemiplegic migraine: A rare and serious type where the headache is accompanied by weakness of one side of the body. Some symptoms mimic those common to stroke

Vestibular migraine: Patients may experience a combination of vertigo, dizziness or balance problems with other symptoms.

Breaking the stigma

Dr Arun B Nair, professor of psychiatry at Government Medical College, Thiruvananthapuram, says one of the biggest challenges is the pervasive stigma surrounding the condition.

People may perceive sufferers as overreacting to a simple headache or using it as an excuse to avoid responsibilities. This lack of understanding can lead to feelings of isolation and frustration.

Radhamma (name changed) went through such an experience. “For 20 years, I used to suffer from recurrent pulsating headaches with vomiting. But I ignored them. A year ago, symptoms became severe and I consulted a neuro-physician who then diagnosed it as migraine. I have been symptom-free since taking medications,” says the 58-year-old.

Empowering through knowledge

Education is a powerful tool in the fight against migraines. Understanding the condition, its triggers and management strategies can significantly improve the lives of those affected. Medications, lifestyle changes and alternative therapies can help manage and reduce the frequency and severity of migraines. Awareness campaigns highlight these options, encouraging sufferers to seek medical advice and find a treatment plan. Treatments include acute and preventive (prophylactic) therapy. Patients with frequent attacks usually require both. Medications work best when taken at the first sign of an oncoming migraine.

Building a support network is crucial for managing the emotional and psychological toll of the condition, says Dr Arun. Online forums and local support groups create safe spaces for sufferers to connect with others who understand their struggles. These communities can be a lifeline, offering comfort and camaraderie for those navigating the often tumultuous journey of living with migraines.

As we shine a light on migraines this June, let us remember the millions living in the shadow of this debilitating condition. Through compassion, education, and support, we can bring hope and relief to those who suffer in silence.

The New Indian Express