Friday, January 18, 2008
Women and migraines
Rev. Unnia Pettus
By Val Willingham
The Rev. Unnia Pettus is a busy woman. As a domestic violence counselor, a college instructor and a practicing minister, the last thing Pettus needs is a migraine. Unfortunately, she suffers from them all the time, sometimes three or four times a week.
Physicians find migraines are three times more common in women then in men. Many women experience migraines after they start their menstrual cycles. As they age, the pain becomes more intense and more frequent. "Patients sort of run into a chronic daily headache, so that they are having headaches every single day," says Dr. Marc Schlosberg, a neurologist at Washington Hospital Center in Washington, D.C. "The daily headaches tends not to be as bad as the migraine headache, but they still have migraines on top of the daily headaches."
Pettus is 39 and her migraines have gotten worse. When she was younger, she had only one a month, but now it's more often. She recognizes triggers that set her migraines off - certain smells such as heavy perfume, food cooking and smoking. Even the weather can bring on a migraine. And that's not unusual. In their 30s and 40s, migraine symptoms in some women begin to change. They experience more nausea, vomiting and they're more sensitive to light. Also, as they age, medications for migraines don't work for very long. Pettus has tried them all. Dr. Schlosberg says, "It's not uncommon for people to take these medications more frequently, because they get less and less effective."
For many women relief comes in their 50s, after menopause, as their migraine symptoms go away. Doctors believe that estrogen levels play a huge role. For men, migraines don't go away as they get older. They tend to be more severe. Many males suffer from chronic cluster headaches as they age. These headaches occur in clusters that last a few months each. Then they go away and come back in the next year.
For Pettus, the idea of growing older brings one ray of hope. Her mother, as well as her aunts all suffered from migraines when they were younger. After menopause, all their headaches vanished. It's a small comfort for Pettus, who has a long way to go before she reaches her 50s.
Do you suffer from migraines? What do you do for relief? Let us know.
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