chronic illness

The Best Way To Explain Chronic Migraines

Today’s guest post is written by Dr. Mark Khorsandi who works with the Migraine Relief Center which has several offices across the nation that offer a variety of treatment options including surgery, injections, and alternative options. Be sure to check out his site for more information

Along with the pain and emotional side effects of chronic migraines, the last thing a person wants during an attack is to hear someone say, “I understand. I get headaches every now and then too.” Although this is said out of empathy and no harm is meant by it, you and all other migraine sufferers know that a migraine is not a typical headache.

Adding to the frustration, is the fact that migraines cannot be seen from the outside. Because of this, not only is the pain intensity and the accompanying symptoms difficult for others to understand, but it can also be quite challenging to convince them that you are even suffering from a migraine in the first place.

So how do you help others to understand? As with most education, it is best to start with the basics.

What Is A Migraine?

The first question a curious loved one may ask is, “How do you know it’s not just a headache?”

Although migraines do fall under the same category as headaches, their characteristics are much different. First of all, unlike most headaches which are normally felt on both sides of the head, migraines typically focus on one side only. They also cause severe, intense throbbing or pulsing pain which can last from hours to weeks.

To make the situation worse, migraines are usually accompanied by a wide range of unpleasant symptoms such as blurred vision, vomiting, nausea and sensitivity to lights, smells and sounds. They can also cause stress, irritability and depression.

What Causes Chronic Migraines?

Another question you may hear is, “Why do you get them so often?”

Chronic migraines are often associated with genetics, such as skeletal imbalance problems, issues within the jaw joint or environmental factors. Unfortunately, until the root cause is discovered and corrected the migraines will likely continue.

  • Genetic Factors: Any type of misalignment above the shoulders, including the skull, jaw or neck can cause unusual activity in the trigeminal and facial nerves. When these nerves are irritated, the surrounding muscles experience unusual and chronic contraction. This leads to abnormal blood flow in the brain and ultimately to migraines.
  • Environmental Factors: Although genetics are likely the main cause for most sufferers, migraines can also be triggered by several environmental factors. A few of the main culprits are stress, dehydration, poor sleep, diet, lights, smells and hormones, such as menstrual cycles and menopause.

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Types of Migraines

Occasionally you may hear statements such as, “My friend has migraines too, but she never complains about nausea.” 

That very well could be true, but this is the perfect time to let them know that there are actually five different types of chronic migraines. Furthermore, each of those types comes with its own unique pain sensations and symptoms.

Basilar Migraine

This is one of the few migraines that can be felt on both sides of your head, as well as on the back. Along with the severe stabbing or throbbing pain, many sufferers also experience visual disturbances, confusion, balance loss and an inability to speak.

Ocular/Retinal Migraine

With this type of migraine, often the first symptom is partial or full loss of vision in one eye, which can last up to an hour and occur as early as 18 hours before the migraine strikes. The rhythmic throbbing or pulsing pain is usually accompanied with sensitivity to light.

Hemiplegic Migraine

Frightening stroke-like symptoms often precede the severe throbbing pain of a hemiplegic migraine. These symptoms can include loss of consciousness, nausea, confusion, dizziness, numbness and slurred speech.

Transformed Migraine

The transformed migraine, although typically less intense than the others, can occur daily. The steady ache, throbbing or tension sensation felt from this migraine is often accompanied by symptoms such as light and sound sensitivity and nausea.

Silent Migraine

Since this type of migraine strikes without pain, it can be more difficult than the others to self-diagnose. However, the symptoms are the same and can be just as debilitating. With a silent migraine, you will likely experience visual disturbances, sensitivity to sound and light, confusion and nausea.

 

Migraine Treatments

The final question is one that almost every migraine sufferer has probably heard. “Why won’t you just take an aspirin?”

Unlike normal headaches, migraines do not always respond to standard over the counter medications. Instead, many migraine sufferers must take prescription drugs to relieve their symptoms. Others look for relief in home remedies, massage, Botox and for the most severe cases, surgery.

Friends and loved ones ask questions out of both curiosity and concern, but finding the right way to answer them is sometimes difficult, especially during a migraine attack. Fortunately, now you will be more equipped to explain to others exactly what you are experiencing. Better yet, you can lay your head down, put an eye mask on and say, “Here. Read this.”

Stock photos by Turquoise & Palm
chronic illness

Allodynia: The Pain No One Sees

Allodynia & Invisible Pain

One of my most frustrating symptoms of any of my chronic illnesses is the one that is the least visible and the least understood. The medical term is “tactile allodynia” or simply “allodynia” but is often just referred to as hypersensitivity. Sounds like such a simple description for something that causes excruciating pain. Of the variety of types of pain I deal with on a regular basis, this hypersensivity is by far the most frustrating because there is so little that can be done for it. Allodynia is often associated with conditions such as fibromyalgia, neuropathy, and migraines or may not be connected to another condition at all. The joys of all the unknown that comes with invisible chronic illnesses.

I felt so alone when I started dealing with it on a regular basis but after writing a blog post about the frustration in dealing with allodynia in 2012, I quickly learned that I was not alone. To this day, it continues to be one of the most popular posts here at A New Kind of Normal. I have learned a lot about managing hypersensitivity since then through my own trial and error but I have also learned a lot through the comments left by readers and the community.

Today I am going to share some options for managing the pain and frustrations of hypersensitivity that I have found helpful over the years of battling allodynia:

1- Hot bath/shower: Sometimes one of the best things I can do to knock the intensity of the hypersensitivity down is to take as hot a bath or shower as I can stand. Epsom salt helps when I can soak in the bath. I would LOVE to have a whirlpool tub (maybe one day!). There have actually been times where I have crawled to the bathroom in the middle of the night just to have to soak just to knock the pain down enough to sleep.

2- MyPainAway Fibro Cream: Usually I would pass by this cream on the shelf without giving it a second glance thinking it was some kind of gimmick but I am so glad that I gave it a try. I found MyPainAway Fibro Cream at my local CVS and it is is a homeopathic cream to relieve pains associated with fibromyalgia and neuropathy. After taking a hot shower or bath, I will put this cream all over and it really helps cut down on the hypersensitivity. I also really appreciate that it doesn’t have a strong odor like so many other pain relieving creams have. A bonus perk is that 3% of all the sales are donated to the Fibromyalgia Research Foundation.

3- Invest in soft sheets/blankets/pajamas: When allodynia flares at its worst, even the softest fabrics can feel like sandpaper but it is really important to have some items on hand that feel soothing on your skin whether it is a really soft cotton or silk. I’ve always been a big fan of investing in pajamas that make you feel good (whether they are just really cute or really comfy) when you have a chronic illness but when you suffer with hypersensitivity, it is extra important.

4- Lidocaine can be a miracle: Lidocaine is a numbing agent that comes in a variety of forms (creams, patches, injections, etc) that can do a variety of miracles. Unfortunately, in my experience, when my allodynia flares, the vast majority of the time, my vulvadynia flares as well which makes sense since both are related to overactive nerves and the pain from vulvadynia can be excruciating. It hurts to stand, sit, or lay down. Sometimes even the pressure of wearing panties is enough to make you want to climb the wall. My apologies for the TMI if there are any male readers but for my fellow female warriors, if you deal with allodynia, do you deal with vulvadynia as well? After a hot bath, I use lidocaine gel to help knock down the pain but unfortunately, this is one of those symptoms that just hast to pass on its own.

5- Sometimes medications like Lyrica, Cymbalta, and Neurtontin can be helpful: All medications come with a list of side effects but sometimes the benefits can far outweigh the side effects. Unfortunately medications help people differently so there will be some (sometimes a lot) of trial and error involved in finding the medication that helps you the best but once you do, it feels like the heavens part and angels start singing.

 

Other helpful resources:

When Touch Hurts & Blood Matters: Getting At The Pain In Fibromyalgia & CFS

Allodynia: When Touch Hurts But Shouldn’t

Migraine, Allodynia, and Central Sensitization

 

Do you have any recommendations for dealing with allodynia?

INVISIBLE-ILLNESS-AWARENESS-WEEK-2015

 

P.S. Check out the original post, My Hair Hurts: Dealing With Tactile Allodynia & Fibromyalgia, to become a part of the community and read the many ways other battling allodynia are choosing to fight!

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A Little Life Update & A TMI Tag!

I am so, so sorry that it has been so long since my last post! If you follow me on other areas of social media, you might now that the migraines I had been struggling with continued to amplify and I was have sometimes 4-5 migraine days a week. Of course with my migraines, I get all of the classic symptoms: hypersensitivity to light and sound, nausea, vomiting, blurry vision, vertigo,etc. Not a very fun existence at all if you can even call it existing. Black out curtains became my BFF and I honestly began to feel like a vampire!

After a few false starts, it finally seems like we may be getting a better handle on things and the number of migraines has gone way, way down. I have to be careful to not stand up to quickly when taking my new medication or I will pass out (which is always a fun side effect) but thankfully after you hit the floor a few times you learn your lesson 🙂

With my return to the land of the living, I am so excited to hop back into the swing of things and get this blog cranked up! The perk of being bed bound for awhile is that it does give you some time to think so I’ve got some ideas I am hoping to incorporate! Yay!

As my first post back, I thought I would do something a little different and I recorded my first ever video post! This is called the “TMI Tag” and I answer random questions that hopefully will allow you the chance to get to know me a little bit better and maybe have a laugh or two! It only took me four (ok, five) tries to get it right and we won’t go into the tears that were shed trying to figure out the editing program. I definitely still have a lot of learning to do in order to figure out the whole video and YouTube thing but it is finally done and I am really proud! Until recording this, I didn’t realize how thick my accent is so don’t laugh too hard!

There it is! I hope you guys really enjoyed it and congratulations if you made it through the entire thing! When I decided to do this tag, I had no idea it would take so long! LOL

I would love to hear you guys answer some or all of the questions! If you have a blog (or youtube) and do a post, leave me a link or just answer a few in the comments! Here is the list so you don’t have to take notes 🙂

1. What are you wearing?
2. Ever been in love?
3. Ever had a terrible breakup?
4. How tall are you?
5. How much do you weigh?
6. Any tattoos?
7. Any piercings?
8. OTP (One True Pairing: what’s your favorite fictional couple)?
9. Favourite show?
10. Favourite bands?
11. Something you miss?
12. Favourite song?
13. How old are you?
14. Zodiac sign?
15. Quality you look for in a partner?
16: Favourite Quote?
17: Favourite actor?
18: Favourite color?
19: Loud music or soft?
20: Where do you go when you’re sad?
21: How long does it take you to shower?
22: How long does it take you to get ready in the morning?
23: Ever been in a physical fight?
24: Turn on?
25: Turn off?
26: The reason I joined Youtube/Blogging?
27: Fears?
28: Last thing that made you cry?
29: Last time you said you loved someone?
30: Meaning behind your Youtube/Blogging Name?
31: Last book you read?
32: The book you’re currently reading?
33: Last show you watched?
34: Last person you talked to?
35: The relationship between you and the person you last texted?
36: Favourite food?
37: Place you want to visit?
38: Last place you were?
39: Do you have a crush?
40: Last time you kissed someone?
41: Last time you were insulted?
42: Favourite flavour of sweet?
43: What instruments do you play?
44: Favourite piece of jewelry?
45: Last sport you played?
46: Last song you sang?
47: Favourite chat up line?
48: Have you ever used it?
49: Last time you hung out with anyone?
50: Who should answer these questions next?

I just want to end by saying that you guys are absolutely amazing and I can’t put into words how much you guys and this little community means to me! Its such a special little family and I have really, really missed connecting with you and I am definitely excited to jump back in and hopefully chat and hang out! You have to let me know if you liked the video and if you think it would be fun to add them in every now and then!

Love you guys & I’ll talk to you soon!