They're the Mother of all headaches. The Big Daddy. The pounding that can pounce without warning, make you retreat to a silent, still place, and render you horizontal for days. We're talking about the tyranny of migraines.
Alice, twenty-five, has had them since she fell off a horse at age eleven. "I jolted my neck," she says. "The migraines started once a week after that."
Like 10 percent of sufferers, Alice experiences migraines with "aura" (or classical migraine). This almost mystical name describes the strange neurological disturbances that occur before the throbbing headache (which is almost always worse in one side of the skull) takes hold.
Credit: Divine Caroline
Typical neurological disturbances include flashing lights, blind spots, or zigzag patterns. But in Alice's case, the weird aura sensation made her feel as if she had been "poisoned and was about to be sick."
Next the intense pain would develop, always behind Alice's left eye. She'd have no choice but to go to bed, often staying there two to three days.
Not surprisingly, Alice's mom was frantic. "She insisted I was sent for a brain scan," Alice recalls. "But I was diagnosed with nothing more sinister than a migraine-although that didn't seem a bonus at the time."
It's estimated 10 percent of both the American and British population live with migraines. For some it's no big deal and symptoms are few. But for others, they make life a misery. Yet despite the notoriety, the mechanisms of migraines remain hazy.