Posted at 03:14 PM ET, 07/21/2011

Michele Bachmann’s migraines: Some facts about a mysterious condition


Bachmann’s migraines have taken center stage. (RAINIER EHRHARDT/ASSOCIATED PRESS)

Michele Bachmann is undergoing the requisite invasive media examination required of any presidential hopeful in 2011, but instead of commenting on her publicized beliefs, her promises to constituents and her family life, our focus has shifted to what’s going on inside her head. Literally.

The latest Bachmann story is on her migraines, and since it’s up to the public to decide whether or not her headaches will impede her ability to lead the country, let’s take a minute to understand what this condition really means.

Full disclosure: This post won’t help you determine whether migraine will affect Bachmann’s chances as a possible GOP nominee, or whether the story itself is sexist. You have plenty of articles to peruse if you’re looking for that. But as someone whose earliest memories involve that now-familiar dull throb, I can tell you that migraine headaches are largely perceived as one or all of the following: A woman’s problem, a common get-out-of-work excuse, or a completely imaginary pain.

None of these are true — in fact, migraine sufferers can be considered overachievers. If you’ve never had one of these headaches, you should understand that from anywhere from a few hours to a couple of days, they are a sick-to-your-stomach, hazy hell on earth. If you have had one, chances are you’ve learned how to manage them out of necessity. As for it being a women’s issue, I inherited this from my father. (Thanks, Dad!)

All of the related media exposure reminds me that migraine is a serious condition, even to people who have long suffered from them. Here are some even-new-to-me facts I rounded up.

1. It’s not just a woman’s problem. About 18 percent of American women and 6 percent of men suffer from migraine, according to the Migraine Research Foundation.

2. Migraine sufferers have to learn their triggers. Triggers of migraine vary from person to person. A common trigger for some is caffeine, but for others, caffeine aids pain relief.

3. It’s still a mysterious condition. Lifestyle changes married with prescription medications certainly help, but the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke continues to research how migraine is passed down through generations.

4. Research funding is limited. The National Institutes of Health funding for migraine research is $9 million — less than 0.03 percent of the annual NIH research budget.

5. Migraine is also paired with other disorders. Depression, anxiety and sleep disturbances are common among sufferers, too.

If you’d like to hear more from an expert, peruse this chat transcript with physician Elizabeth Loder on our site. Some good points, including one about Bachmann’s ability to cope:

On auras, or the haziness that occurs before a headache begins:

About 20-30% of people who have migraine will sometimes or always experience neurologic events in association with their headache. You don’t say when yours occur, but typically these come before the headache itself begins and do not last longer than an hour.

On Bachmann’s ability to cope:

The vast majority of people with migraine have no trouble holding down a job. In fact, I would say that in my experience migraine sufferers tend to be overachievers. I don’t have any special knowledge of Ms. Bachmann’s case, but from what I have read she is using treatment only for individual headaches and reports it works well. To me, that does suggest that the speculation about the effect of her headaches on her ability to function is somewhat overblown and possibly unfair.

By  |  03:14 PM ET, 07/21/2011

 
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