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Can I drive with a Migraine?

The saying at our farm is this: “Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.” It certainly applies when we start to talk about the privilege of driving for those of us who suffer Migraine and Migraine with aura.

While doctors will often tell patients that driving is fine so long as they can see, hear and react appropriately and are not in the midst of an attack, I think it’s a good idea if we take a look at some tips and facts that may help you make the important decision — to drive, or not to drive.

THE FACTS

  1. Driving is a privilege we often take for granted. With that privilege comes specific responsibilities. Driving on public roads is not a guaranteed right for anyone.
  2. Driving while under the influence of medication is an enforceable offense. Before getting behind the wheel, ask yourself if you are willing to live with a permanent mark on your driving record/criminal history. You may even risk losing your license, not to mention your life or the lives of your passengers or others on the road.
  3. Driving while Migraining with or without the influence of Migraine medicines often renders the patient unable to react appropriately. It clouds their normally competent judgment. Some police officers I’ve talked to estimate that driving while Migraining or under the treatment of medications is equal to or even worse than driving drunk.
  4. Migraine aura is unpredictable. It may also include numbness and weakness as well as visual and auditory hallucinations. Even if you think your strength, reflexes and judgment is good, you may be basing these actions on things that are not actually there.
  5. The sensitivities that accompany Migraine may make us unsafe on the road. For example, extremely bright lights can have us blinking to the point of distraction.
  6. Your state’s Motor Vehicles Commission has the right to call your license into question if they feel your health condition makes you a danger on the road. Obviously not everyone who suffers Migraine will be an unsafe driver, however they can choose to order re-testing and evaluation, or even take away your license if they suspect you are not being safe.

I come at this from several different places… I am a Migraineur, but I also worked as an emergency dispatcher and currently volunteer as an emergency first responder. I’ve seen what can happen from the perspective of the patient, from law enforcement, and from the position of the person that shows up at the scene of an accident. I am passionate about my ability to drive my little silver Mustang “Spike” intelligently and carefully (so far no tickets!) and about the safety of the roads. I also grew up the daughter of a state patrolman and the friend of more than one person killed by someone driving while under the influence of drugs or alcohol. This means I have another vantage point as well — driving safety was drilled into my brain from a very early age, and I know the loss experienced when someone is careless or makes an avoidable mistake.

Read more driving tips from Ellen!
Tips to help keep Migraineurs road-safe: Part 1 and Part 2

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The Migraine.com team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

Comments

  • Mike Mills
    9 years ago

    I would like to recieve some feed beack on this……iam a 34 yr old man and since the age of 13 have suffered very severe migraines on a regular basis as such my schooling suffered and I gave up work aged 21 the doctor signed me off sick and untill recently I have been claiming incapacity….now ive been declared fit for work again even thou I still get this bloody attacks at least once a week ive found that nobody in the work sector will take a chance on me so it looks e I’m stuck on the dole for the rest of my life…..my DOCTORS past and present have been useless to say the least, 2 of them saying there is nothing more they can do for me. so I ve learned the things that trigger them off……hope this might be helpful to you…..MILK…..LACTOSE…..EGG ANY THING THAT CONTAINS THE LITTLEST OF THESE MAKES THE ATTACKS COME ON……..STRESS……FLOURESENT LIGHTING, STROBE LIGHTING EVEN HAVING A PHOTO TAKEN BASICALY FLASHING LIGHTS, AND BELIEVE IT OR NOT CERTAIN SMELLS ALSO SUCH AS BLEACH OR PLASTIC BURNING, ALSO FRUIT WH SEEDS INSIDE THEM, when I was recently passed fit for work they said a migraine does not stop u doing day to day activities but when I get one I cant lift my limbs, I cant see, cant talk without sounding like ive drunk a litre of whiskey, I vomit then I sleep for upto 24 hours and I’m not ashamed too say it but wet myself I don’t even know ive done it, but I gave up my drivers liscene cause I did not feel safe not with the severity of my attacks so as it goes I use public transport one ocassion I was dragged off the bus and warned for being drunk and dissorderly lol NOW I WILL GET TO MY POINT IM NOT ALLOWED MY DRIVERS LISENCE BACK BUT IAM ALLOWED TO USE HEAVY MACHINERY IF I FIND A JOB.

  • Deborah Marie
    9 years ago

    My doctor and me tested at the shepherd center hospital in ga. It was a different kind of driving acessment. I was given paperwork for me to have and for my car. It indicates limitations plus reaction times, etc. Plus several migraine problems. This document clearly states I can not drive during a migraine. So thre is my decision…. I have paperwork that reminds me that hemiplegic migraines are rare and these are the symptoms. Today, I am tire so it is a migraine easy day if I push myself… I know my triggers…and proper sleep is an necessity.

  • Diana-Lee
    9 years ago

    I completely agree with you, Ellen. It’s important that we use good judgment in deciding whether or not to drive to protect our safety and the safety of other people we encounter behind the wheel. I always think better safe than sorry. If I have to go somewhere and can’t drive I usually call a cab to take me where I need to go. It’s expensive, but safer.

  • Jaylene Ancheta
    9 years ago

    I don’t have a choice a lot of times. I don’t always have someone to drive me when I really need a ride, esp. to Dr.’s appointments. I have been in an accident because of a migraine attack. It it me so hard and so fast there really wasn’t anything that I could do about it. My license wasn’t taken nor was my ability to drive questioned. After, for a long time, I got anxiety just at the thought of driving. I couldn’t do it. It was almost a year later before I finally got behind the wheel of a vehicle again. I’m still nervous to drive but, no one else seems to be concerned. I don’t have a choice but to drive at times but, when ever I can I do get someone to drive me. I’ve told numerous people about this but, I’m still expected to be able to drive when ever. What am I supposed to do? How do I take care of myself if I can’t drive? Many of my triggers come from the smells of traffic. I think that one of these days some one is going to get killed and it scares me but, no one is listening to my concerns and I have no idea where to go for help.

  • Julie G Hester-Schreiber
    9 years ago

    I get it Jennifer-I’m going through it myself & I totally understand you & your disability. People don’t see it as a disability because to them migraines are invisible. Now if you were in a wheelchair & that shows an actual “physical” handicap ONLY THEN would people understand & be sympathetic. It’s disgusting how migrainers are treated & ignored. You have my support Jennifer. Hang in there.

  • Jennifer Collins-Gonzalez
    9 years ago

    I feel for you Jaylene, that also happened to me! I did not have an accident, just had severe panic attacks about driving and getting a migraine from all the bright sunlight bouncing off all the cars around me! It was a real nightmare for about 2 years and now I really only drive when I have too! Which I hate, I have lost so much freedom and mobility! This is a real disability! Sooo many people just don’t get it!

  • Jenn Waterman
    9 years ago

    I have to drive anyway. I medicate, but it only helps a little. I can barely drive at night – even with tinted glasses. If I’m super bad, I’ll have my parents drive, but if it’s my mum I’ll get a panic attack, even with valium, and it makes the migraine worse. Usually I’m only getting a ride somewhere if it’s to the urgent care/ER.

  • Jenn Waterman
    9 years ago

    As are mine. But I will not force myself to shut off the last remaining aspect of a social life I can maintain. I can’t let others drive because it makes my panic worse. I’m not responsible for other people and it’s other people’s driving that has contributed to the increased pain I’ve had the last nine years.
    You make your choices, I make mine.

  • Julie G Hester-Schreiber
    9 years ago

    It is unsafe to drive with migraines. The aura & other visual problems I have with them & the medication taken to prevent & try to abort them is a very dangerous combination. It’s dangerous on the road to begin with-you have to be on the defensive because of the other drivers & if your impared on top of that & cannot make swift judgements when needed it can be a matter of life or death. Who wants to be a tragic statistic? NOT ME. So Jenn it is wise to stay away from a vehicle when your impared. You need to keep not only yourself safe but others on the road as well. Mine are compounded by panic attacks. Very debilitating. And very, very depressing. Most of this week I’ve spent with a migraine-medication is not helping-changes in the weather front are wrecking havoc with my very sore head. Sucks

  • Jenn Waterman
    9 years ago

    I definitely have days where I can’t drive, and have to cancel a lot of appointments because if it.

  • Julie G Hester-Schreiber
    9 years ago

    I will Jenn. The panic attacks really set me back also. I feel like I have no life because I rarely, if ever, drive. Just too dangerous to do so.

  • Jenn Waterman
    9 years ago

    Appeal the decision – you’re impeded by the panic attacks too. I’m on disability – have been for six years. It sucks – I’m stuck living with my parents, but it allows me to pay some of the bills.
    But if I didn’t drive, I would have no life.

  • Julie G Hester-Schreiber
    9 years ago

    I have suffered from migraines for over 20 years. This past year they have progressed into intractable migraines. Nothing seems to help. Tried Botox injections in Dec & they alleviated the pain some but they never fully went away. Cannot afford to get the treatments again-the insurance precertified the procedure & then denied it & will not pay it now so still trying to appeal it. I’m on daily medication & suffer panic attacks that I take Xanax for which impairs me, as does the other medicine. I have been off work since May 10th of 2010. My Dr told me that it’s best for me not to drive or work until I can get better-still praying that I can get better but no such luck yet. I tried filing for Social Security Disability & got denied. Plan to appeal it but my husband thinks since I was denied to throw in the towel & go find work. How can a person work if they have debilitating migraines each week & I have yet to be able to plan any kind of life around these things-let alone find another job & then just to get fired from it when I cannot make it into work. This is so depressing. Driving is a major problem. Tried driving alone last week & even with the Xanax I had visual disturbances & very stressed out the whole time. Sick of being sick, taking medications & for being misunderstood by family & friends. Depressing-yes, being treated for that as well. Have ok days & learned to keep the bad from my husband because he just doesn’t understand. Feel there is just no support at all for me.

  • Jennifer Collins-Gonzalez
    9 years ago

    night driving has become more difficult with the cars and the new blue lights, way too bright for me! Can’t wear my sunglasses then everything else is too dark! So I really just don’t grive after dark! 🙁

  • Fluffyluggage JenSurdam
    9 years ago

    Oh, I agree. Completely. I won’t take meds if I know I have to drive, which does suck, but I know I have to deal with it. I’ve been dealing with migraines for 28 years now, so at this point, I pretty much know what I can and can’t deal with. But at some point, you have to figure that there are days it’s more of a bother than an actual hindrance, ya know?

  • Fluffyluggage JenSurdam
    9 years ago

    Quite often we don’t have a choice, do we? With migraines 3, sometimes 5 times a week–what choice is there? I wouldn’t even make it to my doc appts most of the time if I chose not to drive with one!

  • Nancy Joey Lencki
    9 years ago

    I do not drive, I will have someone drive for me, usually do all that I can, use all my (TOOLS) I have learned to comfort myself, when a MIGRAINE strikes, I am NEVER without a headache…24/7…..long road….. I just need to always HOPE for the BEST!

  • Nancy Joey Lencki
    9 years ago

    My Migraines come from diffferent medical problems, TMJ-severe-Aracnoid cyst in the lt side of my Brain, to the side of the Lt. ear. C-Spine(neck) severe problems….just to name a few. Has ayone else had any of these problems? I have dealt with this since the late 1970’s. I still think positive, and make the quality of my life, the BEST I can everyday…. So, SORRY, for those of you who have Migraines… God Bless you each & everyone……

  • Jennifer Collins-Gonzalez
    9 years ago

    Same to you Nancy, may God bless you and keep you safe and maybe soon they will have a cure for ths disease~

  • Fluffyluggage JenSurdam
    9 years ago

    I have TMJ, FMS, CFS, and a number of other conditions that are related to migraines, but I’ve had migraines since I was a child, and the migraines seem to be primary, not really secondary. I can definitely feel you on the TMJ. I also have herniated discs, but they’re lower in my back. I do have some bulging discs in my neck, and my doc has suggested that some of my neck problems may be congenital, so I guess nothing can really be done.

  • Jenn Waterman
    9 years ago

    I have bulging cervical discs and a tear in the muscle also somewhere in the cervical discs. That was what I knew as of my MRI in 2008 – I find out the results of the one I had this month in a week. I’m a little anxious. I have TMJ too, but it doesn’t contribute to my migraines, though oddly I get jaw/tooth pain with my more severe migraines.

  • Suretta Lisker Williams
    9 years ago

    I won’t purposely drive with a migraine. Once when I was pulled over (just a warning) I asked the police officer to turn off his light b/c they were making my symptoms worse. He told me to drive slowly and go straight home. When I got a migraine at work, I drove to the drug store and bought this mega-huge bottle of Exedrin Migraine. The woman behind the counter had the nerve to give me a big smile and ask “How are we feeling today?”

  • Fluffyluggage JenSurdam
    9 years ago

    I HATE people who are smug about how others feel. I have several pain conditions, and people will tell me things like “oh, yeah, I slept all weird, I know all about that, I have a kink in my neck,” or whatever, and I’m like, in my head, I really don’t need to hear about that, come back when you have herniated discs, or some REAL problem. I don’t care to hear about a small headache, unless you have a REAL migraine, cuz they’re just not the same. I know people want to relate to you, but it’s really not possible. The pain levels are just NOT the same, and it’s so hard to tell others that. But it’s frustrating to have others exaggerate pain so they can pretend to fit in with you, isn’t it?

  • Eileen Sexton Rzecinski
    9 years ago

    I have not driven in over a year and I’m not a patient person. I am extremely uncomfortable asking someone to take me somewhere. The irony is that it’s better I have someone drive me rather than hurt someone else. My migraines are unpredictable and get worse each time. You might say, like little Annie, “it’s a hard knock life”.

  • Julie G Hester-Schreiber
    9 years ago

    I know exactly how you feel Eileen. I am the same way about driving. It’s scary to be out there on the road & not be in control of your head.

  • Jennifer Collins-Gonzalez
    9 years ago

    Yes Eileen, I can relate to that also! It is an unseen disability! I have to wear my sunglasses everywhere inside stores, and employees there actually comment on the fact “why do you have on your sunglasses too sunny in here?” like it is a joke! I guess we just need to wear a big sign to let every know our condition!!

  • Ann M Dow
    9 years ago

    my problem has been not necessarily having to decide to drive after having begun an attack but being out and having the attack come out of nowhere…then its get home or somewhere that I can be safe till most of the nausea passes…aura for me is infrequent but scary and I don’t like to do anything when that hits..in my situation I have noticed if and when migraine comes it often happens while I’m out say in a store with my teens(dang flourescent lights!)and my anxiety is triggered by pain nausea and a feeling of being overwhelmed sensorily….staying calm long enough to get out and get home is a challenge….thank you so much for all the helpful advice and interaction on this forum…makes me feel good I’m not alone…even though I’d not wish this condition on anyone! peace for today!

  • Julie G Hester-Schreiber
    9 years ago

    What do these glasses do? Are they in place of regular eyeglasses, I currently wear no-line progressive bifocals. Would those be converted to the special sensory glasses? And what is the difference in the colors? Interesting info.

  • Deborah Marie
    9 years ago

    I wear special sensory glasses. They are blue. You eye doctor or find an eye doctor that knows about this. Some people’s colors are orange, gray, brown, rose, etc. As I said my is blue and it is wonderful being back in the world again!

  • De'Anna Barnes
    9 years ago

    Im the same way, I have found that wearing dark sun glasses in stores, hospitals (anywhur with flourescent lights) does me wonders but who wants to walk around wearing sun glasses when theres no sun..but it works for me..

  • Pamela Meeker-Stolz
    9 years ago

    Ann I feel you, stores to me are many times off limits.

  • Becky Bamber Kirk
    9 years ago

    This is a good reminder. It is a hassle to not drive when I have one but I know when I shouldn’t and am unsafe to do so. Yes arranging a ride is a hassle but getting to my destination safely is more important than the inconvenience.

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