One-sided headache. An unbearable throbbing. Nausea. Sudden feeling of faintness. Migraines have an extreme impact on the daily lives of sufferers. How they deal with it and what treatment options are available is what sufferers and experts told the Lëtzebuerger Journal.
"When I had my first attack, I thought it was a stroke." Nina Conan is 26 years old and has been a migraine sufferer with aura since her teens. "It's like everything blurs together. I can't read anything then. It lasts around ten minutes and then I see a black flashing in the middle." What she experiences is comparable to looking at the sun and then trying to read something. "Something is missing and I can't put it together." Neurologist Dr Valérie Piren describes it as follows: "Aura symptoms are very different. Typical are visual disturbances that last 15 to 20 minutes in most cases. Those affected speak of an altered and restricted field of vision. They see flashes, flies. And then the headache sets in. A migraine with aura can also cause sensory or speech disturbances. In the worst cases, paralysis occurs."
Still 30 minutes
When the first symptoms start, Nina still has 30 minutes until it really starts. This time frame is crucial, as she further describes. "In these 30 minutes, I have to take my medication and someone has to pick me up. Because a short time later I have such a headache that I can no longer stand. That can then drag on for a good seven hours." In the best case, Nina can lie down in bed, darken the room and fall asleep. At worst, she's on a train on her way to a holiday. "I've never had a seizure when I was travelling alone by car. Sometimes they start in the middle of the night, sometimes as soon as I get up." The visual disturbances have been particularly hard on Nina. "As soon as I couldn't recognise anything, I panicked. I wear contact lenses and with them you can't always see very clearly, that was enough to scare me." She often puts something in front of her and looks at it to make sure she's (not) having a seizure. "I check a lot. I also often take my smartphone to see if I'm seeing clearly."
During the time she has several attacks a week, Nina decides to see a neurologist. "I was prescribed two remedies. One of them can block the aura even before it can spread." She alludes to the so-called RELERT drugs. "I have tested out of a total of six, four remedies, one worked. When I take this one with a painkiller, it feels better." Nina explains – and this is also told by another interviewee – that the goal is always to reduce the frequency between migraines. "Or to fall asleep and not notice anything anymore."
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