This damn pandemic is magnifying everything that sucks. I know we’re supposed to focus on the Me Time we get and how wonderful it is to be able to spend quality time getting to know those people and hobbies we love, but it’s getting really hard to put a positive spin on any of this now that we are entering our eight month. First however, is the toll it’s taking on our health. In addition to the crippling and lethal effects of COVID-19, the quarantine and pandemic circumstances are amplifying all of our other health issues too. One such ailment on the rise are migraines. According to the migraine-tracking app MigraineBuddy, there has been a 20% increase in migraines during lockdown. And what’s worse, they are lasting longer and are more resistant to our normal treatments. Oh joy.
According to Dawn Buse, Ph.D., Clinical Professor in the Department of Neurology at Albert Einstein College of Medicine and a board member of the American Headache Society, migraine is a chronic illness with episodic attacks that can last anywhere from a few hours to days. Dr. Charisse Litchman, a neurologist specializing in headache medicine and former Assistant Professor of Clinical Neurology at Yale School of Medicine, tells PEOPLE that migraines are three times more common in women than in men, with 17% of women getting migraines as compared to 6% of men. “Women tend to have more severe pain and their headaches last longer,” says Dr. Litchman.
Dr. Litchman tells PEOPLE that since the start of the pandemic, there’s been a significant uptick in both the number of people who are newly experiencing migraines and how often migraines are occurring in those who already suffer from them. (A migraine-tracking app, MigraineBuddy, has seen a 20 percent rise in migraine reports.)
“The reason we are seeing people who have always suffered from migraines experience more migraines is that they are being exposed to more triggers,” says Litchman. “Those experiencing migraines for the first time likely have always had a predisposition to migraines, and they are experiencing [them] for the first time now because they also are exposed to so many new triggers.” Triggers include changes in hormones, excess caffeine, stress (including financial stress), disrupted sleep and meal patterns, plus many potential food triggers.
I *highly* recommend any migraine sufferers click the People link above and read the whole article. Initially I excerpted almost the entire article but needed to crop it for space. There’s a section about how COVID itself exacerbates migraines, basically subjecting those affected to a weeks-long migraine. Most of the article spoke to my migraine situation during the pandemic and somehow it was oddly assuring to have answers. I say oddly because those answers are basically that longer, refractory migraines are my reality until this is over, but at least I know what’s going on. The article said migraine sufferers who are parents are experiencing the triggers of homeschooling and assuming multiple roles in addition to the stress of not being able to remove themselves to deal with their migraines. However, everyone is universally facing the triggers of, “In addition to the health crisis, we are living through economic, political and racial equity and civil rights crises, as well.” I am just emerging from a week of cluster migraines. Saturday and Wednesday nights were so bad, my husband and I discussed taking me to the hospital. I worsened the issue by not managing my medication well because, as the article stated, they weren’t working so I was overlapping treatments. I’ve been blaming menopause and hormones but, although I’m sure that’s a factor, it sounds like the pandemic is to blame.
So what can we do about it? For first time sufferers, diet is extremely important. Avoid chocolate, peanuts, citrus and anything with MSG. Limit alcohol – hydration is your number one defense, drink as much water as you can. Stick to a regular sleep schedule and practice as much self-care as you can, including meditation, stretching (especially your neck) and time out for yourself. All of that is great advice, but if we could practice self-care and uninterrupted sleep schedules, we probably wouldn’t be having such migraine issues. So let me offer some other suggestions. Make sure your home office is ergonomically correct and if you can, update all your eyeglass prescriptions. For bi or trifocals wearers, if you can get a single prescription pair for just computer use, that’s ideal. Make sure to measure exactly how far from your monitor you sit to tell your eye doctor. Keep Excedrin Migraine (the best) or other over the counter migraine medication on hand to manage lesser issues or when symptoms first appear. Dedicate a bag of frozen peas or corn that you wrap in a dishtowel to place at the base of your skull during a migraine. I marked mine with duct tape so no one touches it and it is always there when I need it. Frozen corn and peas will mold the shape of your neck, skull and shoulders better than an ice pack – I cannot emphasize enough how much this helps with pain. My sister in law (who is a doctor) just recommended taking magnesium oxide and B2 as preventatives. I haven’t tried this yet, but she’s never steered me wrong. And step away from your computer, lie on the couch, take any minute you can. I know how hard it is, but it is so, so important right now. As always, any other tidbits my fellow CBitches have would be much appreciated.
Stay safe, my lovelies. I’m here for you if you need me.
Photo credit: Mikael Blomkvist, Ketut Subiyanto from Pexels