Unexpected consequences of headaches for me and the world

by Christopher Fritel

I grew up playing soccer so injuries and muscle spasms are quite well known to me. Rain, cold, sweltering heat, or unfinished homework; Distractions never kept us off the field, so why would anything else. Out of nowhere I started having very mysterious visual focusing problems like auras associated with migraine headaches.

According to the Migraine Journal, visual auras describe a visual disturbance, or an illusion. Temporary loss in vision, seeing lights or shapes that are not there, or other changes in vision can occur before the head pain begins. Only 25%-30% of migraine suffers experience auras. The experience of migraine aura without the head pain is called silent or acephalgic migraine.

To my soccer coach and teammates, having a headache was just not an acceptable reason to sit on the bench. In addition to kicking the ball with our feet, we were expected to hit it with our head too, so I guess you could say that some head pain comes with the territory. I sat out, stayed home, saw a doctor and in the end what worked for me was to lay motionless in a dark room. Over time it got better. It was really more inconvenient than it was painful. I say this to differentiate from the severe, unrelenting, and reoccuring migraines that so many people endure.

Looking into the matter more recently, I discovered the International Headache Society (IHS) . They are the primary reference used by the World Health Organization (WHO) to compile their Fact Sheet on headaches . Even more interesting to me at the time than the mortality statistics were the effects of disabling conditions on the world.

Migraines are number 19 on this list.  Depression is number 1. The term used is YLD, or Years Lived with Disability, and the studies depict the impact to personal wellbeing and socio-economic conditions.

The IHS published a 213 page document for clinicians and researchers to diagnose headaches that is currently in its 2nd edition. Many evidence-based treatments for headaches came directly from research done using these diagnostic guidelines. It is a monster of a document that focuses its bulk on the most commonly suffered primary headaches and secondary headaches due to medication-overuse. It also includes the many other less common secondary headaches.

For me and those that I am close to, being able to better understand the causes and symptoms of headaches takes us all closer to more immediate relief of this disabling condition.