What’s the difference between a headache and a migraine?

“I didn’t feel physically sick. But mentally. My mind was twisting in so many ways. We once saw a documentary on migraines. One of the men interviewed used to fall on his knees and bang his head against the floor, over and over during attacks. This diverted the pain from deep inside his brain, where he couldn’t reach it, to a pain outside that he had control over.”  – Jay Asher

migraine-headache-funny-quotes

In the same way that people say they’ve had the flu, when really they’ve just had  a bad cold, it really infuriates me when people who have a bad headache say they’ve had a migraine. Anyone who has ever actually had a migraine will know that it’s so much more of a headache, in fact, the headache is probably the easiest bit to cope with. So be clear, the is a HUGE difference between and headache and a migraine.

The first time I ever had a migraine I was about 12 and I honestly thought I was dying. I was happily lying in bed reading a book and all of a sudden I couldn’t see properly out of one of my eyes, similar to when you’ve just woken up and it takes you a few seconds to adjust to the light, only this was much worse, and, not really sure what was happening I went into sheer panic. Since then I’ve probably had about 2 a year and I’m still pretty much in the dark as to why it happens and what triggers it.

From research I’ve done online, I gather that every sufferer seems to experience different symptoms and have more clear triggers but for me, a cycle of one of my migraines goes like this:

  • Flashing lights in one eye, comes on suddenly like a light switch, no prior warning, lasts about 20 – 30 minutes and looks like objects have pieces missing from them. If I shut my eyes looks like pink, blue and yellow zig zags across my eye
  • About 15 minutes into the flashing lights I get numbness/pins & needles in the same side as the flashing lights usually affecting my lips and finger tips. Usually lasts until the flashing lights end
  • Speech gets slurred, can think of what I want to say but the words come out like nonsense – usually lasts the length of the flashing lights
  • Once the lights and other symptoms subside, am left with a pounding headache on the opposite side as other symptoms.

Although I can’t seem to pin point the triggers despite keeping a migraine diary, some risk factors for me seem to be:

  • Stress
  • Tiredness
  • Generally ‘burning the candle at both ends’
  • If there’s been a significant rise or dip in air pressure that day

But mainly I would put it down to stress and tiredness. Afterall I’ve never had a migraine whilst on holiday and i rarely get them on a weekend, which I think says a lot!

So, as you can see, a migraine is much more than just a headache. What’s been troubling me recently, is that I watched a documentary the other night about a lady who suffered a similar attack (although on a much larger scale from what I can gather) and came round from it speaking in a Chinese accent (read the full story here http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-2408920/Sarah-Colwill-Plymouth-woman-woke-Chinese-accent.html).

It worries me that the outcome of these attacks can obviously be very severe, even life changing, yet there doesn’t really seem to be much known about the causes of hemiplegic migraine, why it happens, what triggers it, and what can be done to prevent them.

In early 2013 I was referred for an MRI scan because I’d been suffering from chronic headaches and pins and needles in my right cheek on a daily basis. Migraines usually follow a cycle, as explained above, which lasts about 24 hours then your body completes the cycle and you feel better. Doctors were worried that I had a trapped nerve somewhere which was making my body unable to complete the cycle so I was stuck in the aura/ataxia phase. I was more worried that I was having a brain tumour to be perfectly honest, but thankfully the scan came back clear and was later diagnosed with a very severe inner ear infection and chronic longstanding labrynthitis (another condition that there seems to be no cure for!)

I just find it shocking that with all the medical knowledge there is, so many conditions these days are just brushed off as ‘just one of those things’ and that as long as you don’t have anything life threatening or something that’s clear what it is on diagnosis, you just get brushed aside and told to learn to live with it. I suppose I’m just thankful that it doesn’t happen more frequently and I really sympathise with those who get them daily. I just wish there was more knowledge on these horrible episodes that, is, what I imagine having a stroke feels like.

Do you suffer from migraines? What pattern do they follow and what cures work for you?

5 Comments

  1. Rosie January 20, 2019 / 9:12 pm

    I used to get migraines quite frequently from late teens until I had my daughter (randomly, they stopped occuring after having her – don’t know what’s that about). Mine were always triggered by a glare of light – like catching the full brightness of the sun in my eyes, or staring into a lightbulb accidently. Then I’d lose half of my vision. I found the best thing to deal with them was to take paracetamol, ibruprofen and put myself to bed for the day to sleep off the awful headache that made me feel sick. I’d still wake up with the headache, but it was more bearable. They’re such a nuisance!

    • honestlyhelen
      Author
      January 20, 2019 / 9:16 pm

      You’re so right Rosie, if I’m in a car and the light is flickering through trees it can trigger them for me too, they are an absolute pain!

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