Men’s Health Week 2017
MEN AND MIGRAINE
International Men’s Health Week (MHW) begins on the Monday before Father’s Day and ends on Father’s Day itself. During 2017, it will run from Monday 12th until Sunday 18th June. During 2017, the theme for the island of Ireland is: ‘It’s all about HIM’, and the key question is: ‘How are you doing?’
The objective is to encourage men to talk with each other about health and well being issues, to talk to their GP’s and to encourage their family members to discuss and encourage their loved ones to talk about and seek treatment for any physical or mental health issues they may be having.
Migraine is often perceived as condition that affects women only and while it is more prevalent in women (3:1 ratio), men do suffer from the condition and it has an equally debilitating effect on their lives.
Mel Farrell has suffered from debilitating and severe migraines for most of his life. One of his earliest memories is waking one early summer morning, in a bed or cot, when a chink of bright sunlight shone through the gap in the curtains and triggered a severe headache. He can only have been about three or four years old but Mel says. “I distinctly remember the pain, and it was the same pain I have associated since then with migraine. I know from talking to my mother that I was brought to our GP at around age five and the issue was identified as migraine.”
Male migraineurs can therefore suffer additional stigma and lack of support amongst their male peers, though Mel highlights the fact that there are also women who see Migraine as a ‘female condition’ and not something that would affect men. “There have been women who have said quite disapproving things in relation to migraine, basically questioning my manliness.” Mel explains, “…in terms of men, to this day I have male friends who simply do not understand. I appreciate that they cannot possibly understand as they don’t experience Migraine. By a comment or look you sort of know that is one barrier that won’t ever come down. I have to say that the situation is different with friends who have seen me with a migraine. One friend once had to drive me home from an event and he was in shock at the severity of what was happening.”
Migraine is often perceived to be just a bad headache but it is in fact a complex neurological disorder with a range of symptoms that the wider public may not even be aware of. Mel suffers from Migraine with visual aura. Aura describes a range of symptoms from visual disturbances, slurred speech and partial paralysis. Mel’s affects his vision. He explains, “In my younger days this took the form of what I can only describe as a colourful version of ‘TV static’ – flickering, colourful snowy blotches that I would see in my peripheral vision. In adulthood it started to take on the appearance of zigzag pulsating lines that expand from the centre of my vision outwards. To be honest, just thinking about it here is making my stomach feel sick. It’s absolutely horrible.”
In 20% of migraine sufferers, aura precedes the other symptoms of migraine. Mel explains that if he begins to suffer the onset of severe sensitivity to light and sound it is often too late to take his medications and he needs to prepare for the onset of a migraine attack. He will retreat to a darkened room where a pulsating headache will begin to spread across the right side of his head, occasionally towards the front of his head. Sometimes the pain will concentrate behind his eye and at times he says it feels as though his eye will explode from the pain. The pain is so bad that Mel can only text “Migraine” if people try to contact him, before putting the phone away as its use causes intense and intolerable pain.
This period will be followed by nausea and vomiting for several hours. The headache can often ease then and sadly Mel remembers that as a child he would often welcome the vomiting as it brought such relief to the headache phase.
“If I was to give an average time span from aura to drifting asleep I would say 6-7 hours. Sometimes it can happen in three hours, occasionally it can last a whole day. I often liken it to a thunderstorm. It will build up over a few days, you can sense it in the air. Then it will strike with all its ferocity before passing and leaving a calm atmosphere in its wake.”
For many young men the teenage years can be particularly bad in terms of frequency and intensity of attacks. Hormonal fluctuations in boys in the teenage years can often cause periods of intense migraine attacks. This was the situation Mel found himself in and he describes the ages of 7-15 as the worst period of his life in terms of migraine attacks.
“The only phrase that can describe those years is ‘vicious cycle’. Pain, frustration, stigma, and because it was a hidden condition, the perception that I was exaggerating”, he explains, “..very few people understood what I was going through and this caused a lot of additional stress. In hindsight, and I never confronted this before, there was probably depression.”
There are supports available to students who suffer migraine, as part of the Reasonable Accommodation Scheme for the Junior and Leaving Cert. If you are granted exemptions under this scheme you may be able to take medications during exams, eat and drink during exams, take your exam in a room on your own and/or be allowed extra time to finish the exam. The Migraine Association can provide advice and support in relation to this and support in seeking treatment for migraine.
Like all migraine sufferers Mel’s attacks have had a debilitating affect on his personal, social and working life. In 2007, shortly after he started his PhD., Mel was in Dublin for research when an attack hit him suddenly in the afternoon. Mel describes that awful afternoon. “ I went straight from one phase to another so I had a sick stomach after about 20 minutes. I lived in Maynooth at the time and therefore had nowhere to go. In desperation I went to Trinity College and found a bench to lie on near the sports grounds. I must have been there 2-3 hours. To this day I am amazed that I wasn’t removed! I must have looked like a drunk but I was in agony and vomiting …I can’t recall any passers-by intervening. My girlfriend at the time came to my rescue after she finished work”.
A good understanding of the triggers for your migraine attacks and an informed self management and medication programme can make a real difference to the migraine sufferers’ life. The Migraine Association runs a number of Free Self Help Courses and Information Seminars throughout the year, with medical experts and complimentary therapists and they offer practical beneficial outcomes for those who attend. There are always men present at these events and we really encourage male migraine sufferers to attend these events or to contact our Information and Support Line 1850 200 378 if you would like further support and information.
For Mel his triggers are extreme changes of weather or barometric pressure, humidity, lack of routine, long gaps between meals, dehydration or stuffiness and bizarrely the smell of onions. Mel also explains that on occasions another ailment can trigger a migraine, such as last year when a bad cold affected his appetite and the change in eating habits triggered a migraine.
Thankfully though 2017 has been one of Mel’s best years and he hasn’t had a bad Migraine so far this year, just four or five small-scale ones. “Unfortunately for fellow sufferers I can’t explain the improvement. It is a mystery. Perhaps the weather has been a bit more stable this year? “
If you are suffering from migraine and would like further information and support please call 1850 200 378 or email email@example.com
Our thanks to Mel Farrell for sharing his migraine story with us as part of Men’s Health Week, 2017.