By Jason (Guest Writer) –
Males are the migraine minority. Women are 3x more likely to have migraines than men. Being a male with migraine, let me share a bit of my experience with migraines.
First, let’s understand the numbers. Only 6% of American men suffer with migraines. Where 18% of American women suffer with the migraine disease. The most recent statistics identify 38 million Americans with migraines. There are 1 billion people who suffer with migraines globally.
Of the 38 million, 4 million are chronic migraine sufferers, of which only 15% are men. A chronic migraineur is defined as 15 migraine days or more per month.
If we drill down further, we can look at migraine with aura. 15% of all migraines begin with aura. Males only experience aura in 3% of their migraines.
Migraine with aura can be described as a range of neurological symptoms including impaired vision such as rainbows, kaleidoscopes and prisms in the field of view, a loss of concentration, difficulty with speech, sensory symptoms like tingling, numbness or pins and needles down one side of the body, to name a few.
Now let’s get serious with hemiplegic migraine. Hemiplegic migraines are a rare form of migraine that presents like a stroke. Most migraineurs have never heard of a hemiplegic migraine unless they’ve experienced one first hand.
Hemiplegic symptoms include classic migraine symptoms, aura, plus motor weakness and impairment on one side of the body (hemiplegia), numbness and tingling, trouble speaking, cognitive impairment including impaired consciousness ranging from confusion to profound coma and more.
Only 1 in 10,000 migraine sufferers have hemiplegic migraines. That is to say, 100,000 of the global migraine population are hemiplegic. Or 25,000 men worldwide or 3,800 men in the United States are hemiplegic.
My experience as a man with migraine? A daily adventure. You might say I am the Loch Ness Monster of migraines, as I am chronic, with aura and hemiplegic.
I am one of 6% – American males who suffer from migraine (2,280,000).
I am one of 15% – American males who has chronic migraine (5,700,000).
I am one of 3% – American males who has Aura with migraine (1,140,000).
I am one of .01% – American males who has hemiplegic migraines (3,800).
Enough stats. What’s it like being a minority? Being associated with a disease characterized as female?
First off, I was not diagnosed with migraines till I was 27. I’ve had migraines since I was 4 years old. But no one paid them any attention. Despite my aura’s and complaints of vision disruption and smashing headaches. It was probably a good thing I was not diagnosed as a kid. Growing up was hard enough.
As an adult, it’s not been a big deal. I never spoke much about my migraines outside of my close inner circle until recently, on my website Through Migraine. I prefer to keep my migraines to myself because I refuse to acknowledge the impairment. Talking about the migraine fuels the migraine and negative thoughts and feelings. By not mentioning how I feel to others limits all negative connotations in my mind.
That said, when talking about migraines, or any topic for that matter, there is always a group of people that are misinformed. Ignorant. These people tend to look down their nose at me. I can see them thinking – isn’t that a women’s issue? If only they knew how strong and resilient the women are who battle migraine.
Of course, you are going to encounter this type of ignorance in all walks of life. You shrug it off and move on.
The one situation I had a hard time reconciling as a man with migraines is socializing. Particularly with friends at a bar. Let me begin by saying I have never been a big drinker. Most likely because migraines always prevented me from drinking too much.
10 years ago, after my first hemiplegic migraine I forced myself to breakdown every aspect of my life. No medical intervention was working, and I’ve tried almost everything. My migraines were completely out of control. One thing that stood out was alcohol. I only had a few drinks a week but each drink was a 50/50 proposition that I would have a migraine in 60 minutes or less. So, I stopped drinking. It was the easiest thing to change, that was in my control. One morning I woke up and decided I would never drink again, and I haven’t.
Which leads me to the socializing with friends or colleagues. Most enjoy a beer, glass of wine or whiskey from time to time. Who could blame them? They don’t have any afflictions or issues. They don’t mind that I don’t drink, they are cool with it. At least the ones I am still friends with. They are happy to have a designated driver.
It’s the knuckleheads at the bar. The bartenders I have run into who are overly chatty and ask too many questions and look at me like I have a problem. Or the guy at the bar listening to my order and has something to say.
When I first quit drinking I would get defensive. “I can’t drink because of a medical issue” I would exclaim. “Yea right bud, that’s what they all say. How many days since your back from rehab?” Now I am forced to defend myself. I don’t want to be mislabeled!
There is no good way to say at a bar “I don’t drink” without people whispering about you. Talking about you or having preconceived notions.
Life of a man with migraines.
That said, it does not bother me any more. As time has passed, I have adjusted to this lifestyle. It took a bit of getting used to. Understanding the ring of fire I was walking into when I ordered my water with lemon at the bar. Understanding the ridicule that was coming my way. I am at ease with it now.
Fun to know that every person who’s at the bar, their head is going to hurt in the morning same as mine. Unfortunately. I wake feeling like I drank a bottle of whiskey, with none of the benefits. I raise my glass of lemon water to them all!
Life as a man with migraine is the same as a woman with migraine. Some days are real hard. You never know when or where you may get smacked down with the fury of category 5 type storm in your head and nervous system.
All we can do is our best each day with migraine. To press on no matter what migraine presents us with. Use the migraine to press against as a catalyst to achieve. Live each day like it is our last, as tomorrows migraine could be worse than today’s. As such, Never Stop Moving…
About the Writer: Jason Frasca runs a website called Through Migraine where he empowers migraine sufferers to learn how to block pain and live a productive and fulfilling life, without additional medication. All backed by science.