There are headaches, which almost everyone has experienced. Then there are migraine headaches, which are like having a hot spike driven through your eye up into your brain. In a full-blown migraine, a visual “aura” may steal your sight, an auditory hallucination may steal your hearing, severe nausea takes whatever you just ate, and the pain takes you to your bed, sometimes for days. Until the migraine loosens its grip, you can’t put together a coherent sentence, you can’t interact with people, you can’t work, you certainly can’t drive. Such headaches are debilitating in a way folks who haven’t had them find it difficult to understand.
According to researchers cited in an article in a recent Science Daily blog*, migraines are among the top 20 debilitating illnesses in the world, despite being underreported. A new study by the Montefiore Headache Center and Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York set out to gather more detailed information from migraine sufferers via social media.
The study focused primarily on special sensory experiences of migraine sufferers that may not be reported in traditional doctors’ visits. In the midst of a migraine, a headache victim may see brightly-colored geometric shapes or flashing lights; she may hear roaring or ringing, or her ears may be extraordinarily sensitive to sound; she may even smell cigarette smoke or other unpleasant smells where none are present.
The researchers theorized migraine sufferers would be more likely to report such “hallucinations” among fellow victims in Facebook, Instagram or Twitter forums than in traditional health settings. They queried over 600 such forum members three times over three weeks and found information on olfactory hallucinations, auditory hallucinations, even strange tastes that occurred during a migraine. Results from the study will be presented at the 58th Annual Meeting of the American Headache Society (AHS) being held this weekend in San Diego.
As you might have guessed, I suffer from migraines myself. I get the classic visual auras, nausea and pain, but I’ve been spared any auditory hallucinations. I’m merely very sensitive to noise. Fortunately for me, my headaches respond to prescription medications. I can stop a headache in its tracks with a little triangular pill, a dose of which I’m never without no matter where I go. But even better, I’ve been able to reduce the number of my migraines by two-thirds through the use of high-dose magnesium and riboflavin (Vitamin B2). Halleluiah!
Of course, a health problem this dramatic provides plenty of creative writing fodder. I once started a short story about a woman who had visions of murder while in the middle of her migraines. Eventually the murderer got closer and closer, but she was incapacitated even as she saw what was happening, blah, blah, you get the picture. It was a pretty bad story, so it never saw the light of day. But I am really good at describing pain when someone is drugged or hit over the head in my books!
Just another lesson in “write what you know.”
*Montefiore Health System. "Researchers leverage social media to uncover new data on migraine sensory experiences." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 9 June 2016.