Nothing can disrupt your daily quality of life like chronic pain. For people with regular migraine headaches, not only is the pain debilitating but it usually is not observable or detectable by others.
Consequently, sometimes others doubt whether the cause of the pain such as migraine actually exists. Many Kenyans brave migraines that are so bad they can hardly keep their heads up despite attempts at managing it with pain killers.
Migraine is a severe and painful long-term health condition that one in seven people live with. It is the third most common disease in the world, more common than diabetes, epilepsy and asthma combined.
Although migraines can start at any age, they usually begin during puberty or young adulthood. After 50, headaches often become significantly less severe or resolve entirely. Migraines are three times more common among women.
People with the condition suffer from an intense pulsing or throbbing pain that usually occurs in one side of the head. It may cause severe, debilitating pain for hours or days, necessitating the need to retreat to a dark, quiet place.
The pain is generally made worse by physical activity and is often accompanied by additional symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, and sensitivity to light and sound. Symptoms can vary in different people.
Researchers have identified several possible causes of migraines, but as yet do not have a definitive explanation. Researchers estimate that 60 percent of the reason people get migraine is due to inherited genes.
The other possible cause may be due to an underlying nervous system disorder. Migraines occur in people whose nervous system is more sensitive than that of other people. In these people, nerve cells in the brain are easily stimulated, producing electrical activity.
As electrical activity spreads over the brain, various functions such as vision, sensation, balance, muscle coordination, and speech, are temporarily disturbed. These disturbances cause the symptoms that occur before the headache, known as the aura. The headache occurs when trigeminal nerve, the nerve responsible for sending pain, touch, and temperature sensations from your face to your brain, is stimulated.
Oestrogen, the main female hormone, appears to trigger migraines, possibly explaining why migraines are more common among women. Oral contraceptives, which contain oestrogen and oestrogen therapy may make migraines worse and may increase the risk of stroke.
Migraine attacks can be triggered by a variety of factors. These factors include emotional stress. A lot of people currently find themselves in this kind of situation due to the ensuing uncertainties arising from the hard times.
Certain foods and beverages including aged cheese, alcoholic beverages, caffeine, including that in chocolate, and food additives such as nitrates that are found in pepperoni and hot dogs, and fermented or pickled foods may be responsible for triggering up to 30 percent of migraines.
Skipping meals or staying hungry can cause migraines. Similarly, lack of sleep or insomnia, changes in the weather, particularly barometric pressure and excessive stimulation of the senses, for example by flashing lights, loud noises or strong odours; daily use of pain-relieving medications can also cause a rebound headache and even bigger health challenges.
Migraine headaches are chronic. As such they cannot be cured but can be managed and possibly improved. There are two main treatment approaches that use medications: abortive and preventive.
Abortive medications are most effective when you used at the first sign of a migraine, stopping the headache process. Preventive medications may be prescribed when headaches are severe, occur more than four times a month and are significantly interfering with normal activities. The medications reduce the frequency and severity of the headaches.
Mr Mwangi is the Cluster Head, Novartis East Africa