Migraines have been in the news this summer when it was leaked that Congresswoman Michelle Bachmann, a Presidential candidate, has them. The press claimed Ms. Bachmann might be laid up for days at a time and this could impact her effectiveness in the Oval Office. The story is almost certainly nefarious political fiction; these days migraines are well treated in the vast majority of people, be they Presidential candidates or anyone else.
Migraines affect 12% of the American population with 18% of females and 6% of males having at least one per year). Yet, they are clearly underdiagnosed, a core reason being that some people with migraines never get headaches. Estimates are 3%, but I suspect that is grossly low because most people don’t think they have a migraine unless it includes an incapacitating headache and head-in-the-toilet vomiting. To neurologists that would simply be called a bad migraine.
Take my migraines, which I never knew ran in my family for every known generation until I started asking questions. At age 27 as a G2 neurology resident at the University of Minnesota, I experienced spells where I thought I was going to pass out, couldn’t think straight, and was dizzy, but had no headache. To be sure that I wasn’t simply hypoglycemic, I had my blood checked. Normal. Same for CT and EEG. Then I spoke to Mom—often an excellent resource—and she clued me in on our family’s history with migraines. In fact, as I child, I had a few emergency room visits for possible appendicitis, which turned out to be abdominal migraines. This goes to show it’s not always in your head!
Hemiplegic migraines run in some families, where the sufferer becomes paralyzed on half his body (with or without a headache), almost like a stroke. Some get aphasic; they can’t speak or understand–or both–even though they know exactly what they want to say! This can also cause partial or total blindness (scotoma and hemianopsia). Some people even pass out–not from the pain either.
Certain foods and medications are known to be precipitants of migraines, such as cheese, chocolate, red wine, and hormones. If you’re prone to migraines, you may need to curtail or avoid consumption or usage altogether.
To this day I rarely get actual headache symptoms. On rare occasions, I may find myself reading the same medical report three times and can’t understand it–I recognize that to be a symptom of my migraines and simply take two ibuprofen.
If you suspect you have migraines and are concerned, you should seek the help of your physician or a neurologist. Neurologists are specialists who deal with migraines as well as other brain diseases.