Headaches are one of those annoying things in life. Often caused by stress or noise or sometimes even a little too much to drink, they are irritating but usually quickly treated with a couple of pills or a good lie down. Migraines, on the other hand, are a serious and debilitating condition that can rob people of a full and active life. I don’t experience migraines myself, but my daughter, Bec, does and it not only causes severe pain but also costs her socially, emotionally and academically. As far as we know, Bec is at least part of the third generation, on her father’s side, who experience migraine attacks. For a long time we didn’t know much about migraines and receiving differing diagnoses from doctors hasn’t been helpful either. We now suspect she has been having migraines since the age of seven. It has a significant impact on her life. Every month there are days spent in a dark room. Planned activities have to be cancelled. She has missed out on attending events she was really looking forward to and studying full-time is just an impossibility. Already she has come to the conclusion that her life is going to be very different from most of her peers, and that was even before Covid 19. All her goals and choices in life always have to take migraines into account. It severely diminishes her vision for the future.
It is estimated that more than six million Australians are affected by headaches and migraines, but there is a lot of misinformation and confusion about them. Migraines and tension headaches are not the same thing. Migraines are described as a throbbing pain usually felt on just one side of the head that is aggravated by physical activity. They are also often accompanied by nausea and vomiting, or light and sound sensitivity. Symptoms and experiences can vary, though, from one person to the next. Not everybody experiences nausea or auras, and this confusion can lead to a lot of misdiagnosis and even stigma. People are often accused of being hypochondriacs, when really they are suffering from an acute, blinding pain that just will not go away.
Migraines are a neurological disorder. They usually present some time in childhood, adolescence or early adulthood, and not only do they affect women disproportionately, but they are often more severe and longer for women. Typical. The World Health Organisation describes migraines as one of the most disabling illnesses, on a par with dementia and quadriplegia! Technically, it meets the definition of disability, although the Australian Government refuses to recognise it as such. The cost of migraines is not just personal. It is estimated that migraines cost Australia $35.7 billion in health costs and lost productivity – every year.
Migraine and Headache Awareness Week is organised and run by Migraine and Headache Australia, a division of the Brain Foundation. Migraine and Headache Australia was founded by neurologists and is the only organisation in Australia that offers support, education and research. Currently they receive NO government funding for their research program, yet they believe that much of the impact of migraines could be preventable if patients had access to affordable and effective treatments.
Treatment is tricky because everybody responds differently to medication, but it was only just recently that Migraine and Headache Australia had a win with finally succeeding in getting a new medication added to the PBS. It was the first time a medication had been specifically developed for migraines, so it was a bit of a break through, but apparently it has taken years of campaigning for patients to get more affordable access.
Australians who experience debilitating migraines deserve better. They deserve to have better access to treatment that could literally change their lives. Young people, like Bec, deserve to be able to look forward to the future with optimism and hope. We are not looking for a cure; just a chance to experience a full life – physically, mentally, emotionally and financially.
For further information about migraines and headaches or ways that you can show your support please check out the Migraine and Headache Australia website here. Migraines are one of those invisible disabilities that can be quite debilitating but a little kindness and understanding can go a long way.