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Taking Migraine Seriously

For a disease that impacts 40 million people in the USA alone, and around 1 billion globally, it is sad that this would even be a question in peoples’ minds. Yet, it is! Millions of us struggle with the issue of taking migraine seriously. We deal with stigma at school, work, home, with our friends, in policies and regulations, even in healthcare. It’s all too easy to feel as though this is not a disease to be taken seriously; that it’s something we make too much of a “fuss” about.

Why should migraine be taken seriously?

The reality is that migraine is a disease that impacts every area of life, and one for which there is no cure. A disease that is devastatingly underfunded, misunderstood, and inadequately treated. So, let’s look at some reasons why we SHOULD take migraine seriously:

Migraine is a serious disease

Migraine is a complex neurological disease about which remarkably little is still known. Out of the 40 million people in the USA who live with migraine 4-6 million have chronic migraine (migraine at least 15 days per month). 1-2 million have chronic DAILY migraine! 1 billion people globally live with this disease and migraine is now considered the #2 global cause of disability based on years lost to disability, second only to low back pain. For the under-50s it is the leading cause of disability and has been described as “a forgotten epidemic.” Despite this, there is no mandated education in medical schools for migraine. This means that accurate diagnosis is woefully poor, and treatment is often ineffective or even outdated. In addition, research funding is one of the lowest for any disease, which means change is unacceptably slow.1

Migraine is a costly disease

Every life has value and purpose; that includes yours! The cost migraine brings in its wake can be devastating, and you have the right to not be blamed or dismissed. You have the right to gain timely access to quality and current medical treatment. Even more so, to be treated by physicians who understand the complexity of migraine and other comorbid conditions that may impact its severity and treatment. Despite the limitations so often placed upon us by insurance, you have the right to be listened to and taken seriously. Please don’t consider yourself less important, or that this disease is not worthy of effective attention and treatment.

Invisible disabilities are just as real as visible ones

Invisible disabilities are just that – invisible – nonetheless, they are still disabilities. A chronic disease such as migraine is just as real as any other disease that is obviously visible. As we find the courage to take off the mask that helps us hide the true impact of migraine on our lives, we will also help make this disease more visible. Making it visible and showing the world the reality of migraine in our lives is not an easy thing to do. However, it is so important for helping bring about change and is also empowering for those who live with the disease.

Ignoring migraine is isolating

The more we ignore what migraine is doing to our lives, the more we tend to isolate. Stigma and misunderstanding bring in their wake a fear that migraine is a big fuss about nothing. That results in a greater tendency to ignore and then… more isolation. For some, isolation may at first seem a welcome blessing; a respite from the migraine triggers that life brings in its wake. Who with migraine doesn’t long for a break from scents, bright lights and noise? However, isolation also leads to increased depression and anxiety. Isolation can lead to lower compliance to treatment regimens and poorer outcomes for disease management.

Migraine affects every part of our lives

One of the most challenging aspects of migraine is that it is a “spectrum” disease. By that I mean it affects people on a wide spectrum of frequency, severity, symptoms and medication response. One person may have one mild attack once a year that responds quickly to over-the-counter medication and lying down for an hour. With another, there may be daily attacks with debilitating symptoms that don’t respond to any form of treatment. For those people who experience regular attacks it affects every part of life. For those who don’t experience relief from treatments the result is often devastating.

Pushing through migraine can cause problems

“Pushing through” is a phrase often heard. Pushing through the pain, nausea, and dizziness; pushing through the light, sound, and smell sensitivity. Somehow, trying to keep going. Fighting against a disease that repeatedly tries to take over every one of your senses. On the face of it, there is sense in pushing through. After all, employment, school, and society don’t wait – life goes on as normal. However, pushing through can cause issues that are hard to see at first; almost like a frog that is put in a cold pot of water not realizing the water is slowly getting hotter! Pushing through can mean taking more medication than is ideal. It means trying to hide a disease that doesn’t want to be hidden. It can even increase the likelihood of migraine "chronifying," as the disease is ignored and inadequately managed.

We can help change the future for others

By taking migraine seriously we are helping to effect change. Change not only for ourselves but for our children, grandchildren, friends, neighbors. By taking it seriously we will start to see increased funding for research, medical school education, more certified headache specialists; a new awareness in society. The more we hide in the shadows and try valiantly to convince ourselves that “migraine is not a big deal,” the more we pass that message on to others. However, just as the ramifications of not taking migraine seriously are impactful, so are the ramifications of speaking out. It is a ripple effect, as together we stand up and say, “Enough; it is time for change!”

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