Wednesday, November 18, 2009
Review: The Migraine Brain
If ever you find yourself thinking that spirit is stronger than flesh, or ought to be, try getting a migraine.
I'm lucky: I've been to the ER only three times with headaches. Once I forgot to open the window while stripping paint from a door. Once I was coming down with the flu. And once, earlier this year, I had a classic migraine. Tip: if you want to be ushered quickly to a private exam room, try sitting in the communal waiting room barfing into a bowl.
Some of my friends have that sort of migraine several times a month. Fortunately, after years of misery, they have found medications that help. To them--and to less seriously affected migraineurs like me (with frequent but comparatively mild migraines)--I recommend The Migraine Brain by Carolyn Bernstein, MD, and Elaine McArdle.
The authors give lots of good advice for diagnosing, preventing, treating, and living with migraines. A migraine is not a headache, they say, but "a neurological illness caused by an abnormality in your brain chemistry." Headache is one of its most frequent symptoms, but there are many other symptoms as well, and not just the familiar accompaniments such as nausea and flashing lights. Thanks to this book, Mr Neff now understands why I insist on putting a towel over our glow-in-the-dark alarm clock, why the smell of baking bread wakes me up at night, and why I can't wear turtlenecks or hairstyles with bangs. Hey, I have an abnormal brain! Who knew?
The solution? Alas, there isn't one: migraine is a chronic condition. But migraines can be aborted, reduced in number, and made less severe. The authors discuss drugs and doctors as well as complementary and alternative treatments (they like triptans, magnesium, and acupuncture but are nervous about some herbal supplements). Equally important, they suggest a lifestyle overhaul: a migraineur needs to eat right, sleep enough, take breaks, and have fun.
Or, if that's too tall an order, she can at least try drinking eight glasses of water a day while wearing a V-neck T-shirt and sitting in a darkened, odor-free room.