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HEALTH MATTERS: Demystifying migraine headaches, a disabling disease for many

Did you know that migraine is the sixth most disabling disease in the world? states that nearly 5 million people in the U.S. experience at least one migraine attack per month.

The first part of September is designated as Migraine Awareness Week to recognize that migraine is a serious public health issue and to reduce the stigma of this complex and real illness. There is no cure for this often invisible and isolating condition.

According to More to Migraine, in the U.S., an estimated 14.8 million people with migraine suffer symptoms severe enough to require bed rest or cause impairment of daily activities. Behind tooth decay and tension-type headaches, migraine is the third most common disease affecting about one in seven people.

The World Health Organization reports that migraine often starts at puberty and most affects those aged between 35 and 45 years, but it can affect children.

The National Institutes of Health states that about 4 percent of boys and girls in pre-puberty suffer from migraine. As children get older, there is a predominance among girls.

“I suffered from migraines since I was 5 years old,” said Tamela Robinson, a single mom of three. “I remember feeling numb, nauseated, severe pain in my head, and my vision was blurred.”

Robinson feels that the onset of her migraine occurred under extreme stress when her mother died when she turned 5 years old.

Every migraine sufferer is different.


“The symptoms of migraine vary but many experience severe pain on one side of the head associated with light and/or sound sensitivity,” said Dr. Saundra Dalton-Smith, a board certified internal medicine physician. “Some may even experience nausea and vomiting during a migraine, an aura which is characterized by tingling on one side of the face and flashes of light or wavy lines in visual field.”

As an adult, Robinson is more cognizant of the triggers that cause her migraine.

“When I don’t get enough sleep, stressed or don’t eat balanced meals, I’ll get a migraine,” said Robinson, who operates two businesses in Compton. “I treat it with over-the-counter medicine, eat properly and meditate or sleep in a darkened room.”

While the cause of migraine is not easily identified, it’s clear that there are heredity traits. Researchers report that as many as 90 percent of people with migraines have family members who also suffer from these headaches.

“My daughter, who is 24 years old, also suffers from migraines,” Robinson said.

“Migraines are very debilitating for those who suffer with them,” said Dr. Dalton-Smith, an internist who focuses on treating the whole patient. “To help a patient be productive during the day, they need to be able to concentrate and that’s hard to do with an active migraine. Most of these patients find their work suffers as well as their happiness until headaches are controlled.”

In a headache disorder study, it was found that migraine is more prevalent than diabetes, epilepsy and asthma combined. Chronic migraine affects approximately 2 percent of the world’s population and affects three times as many women as men.

Severe migraine attacks are classified by the World Health Organization as among the most disabling illnesses, comparable to dementia, quadriplegia and active psychosis.                 Image Source: Advanced Migraine Relief.

Migraine remains undiagnosed and undertreated in at least 50 percent of patients, and less than 50 percent of migraine patients consult a physician.

Severe migraine attacks are classified by the World Health Organization as among the most disabling illnesses, comparable to dementia, quadriplegia and active psychosis. Depression is three times more common in people with migraine or severe headaches than in healthy individuals.

The World Health Organization describes the different types of headache disorders:

  • Tension-type headaches are the most common primary headache disorder. This headache is described as pressure or tightness, often like a band around the head, sometimes spreading into or from the neck.
  • Cluster headache is a primary headache disorder. Most people developing cluster headaches are in their 20s or older.

It is characterized by frequently recurring (up to several times a day), brief but extremely severe headache, usually focused in or around one eye, with tearing and redness of the eye, the nose runs or is blocked on the affected side and the eyelid may droop.

  • Medication-overuse headache, which is caused by chronic and excessive use of medication to treat headaches. It is the most common secondary headache disorder and often at its worst on awakening.
  • Migraines and severe headaches can also be caused by muscle tension related to your bite and jaw know as temporomandibular joint.
According to the World Health Organization, headaches are underestimated, under-recognized and under-treated throughout the world. Headaches are responsible for disability and ill-health.

“Common triggers include sleep deprivation, stress, food additives, dehydration, strong smells, hunger, hot weather, alcohol and menstrual cycles,” Dr. Dalton-Smith said. “One way to prevent migraines is to avoid known triggers, get adequate rest and eat regular balanced meals.”

Dr. Dalton-Smith recommends to help identify triggers by keeping a diary about your headaches that shows what the events are around each episode.

The World Health Organization and researchers and clinicians worldwide offer additional migraine statistics you may not know.

Migraines affect 36 million people in the U.S. They are most common between the ages of 25 and 55.

Every 10 seconds, someone in the U.S. goes to the emergency room with a headache or migraine. Depending on the individual, severe headaches and migraines can be treated with neuromuscular dentistry.

Based on the headache disorder research, less than 50% of migraine patients are satisfied with their current treatment. The majority self-medicate using over-the-counter medication and do not seek professional medical help.

“For those with chronic migraines, there are preventative medications to help keep migraines away. These medications include beta blockers, calcium channel blockers, anti-depressants and even anti-seizure medications,” Dr. Dalton-Smith said. “Acute migraines can be treated with various pills as well as injectable medications to quickly abort a headache and to help control associated symptoms like nausea.”


American Migraine Foundation –

World Health Organization –

Migraine Research Foundation –

Migraine –

More to Migraine –

UC San Francisco –

The Migraine Trust –

Marie Y. Lemelle, MBA, a public relations consultant, is the owner of Platinum Star PR and can be reached on Twitter @PlatinumStar or Instagram @PlatinumStarPR. Send “Health Matters” related questions to and look for her column in The Wave.