Migraine sufferers count cost of pandemic

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Sudden lifestyle changes sparked by the onset of the COVID-19 have triggered more frequent and severe attacks for migraine sufferers.

However researchers have also identified a series of factors associated with decreased frequency of headaches, including consuming less alcohol and processed or fast foods and upping exercise levels.

As a result, Migraine and Headache Australia is encouraging sufferers this month to commit to one small but simple act of daily care to help manage their condition.

The campaign is supported by makers of exercise drink, Hydralyte, and aims to encourage steps like limiting screen time and increasing hydration alongside clinical treatment to help manage symptoms.

The Commit to Care initiative comes in the wake of data indicating COVID-related disruptions to daily rituals have been widely detrimental for Australians suffering migraines.

Research led by Sydney neurologist Bronwyn Jenkins and published for the first time on Sunday found almost 49 per cent of 711 patients surveyed in June and July last year experienced an increase in migraine frequency at the onset of COVID restrictions

Some 41 per cent reported greater severity of attacks and 42 per cent, an increase in their impact.

However respondents to the Royal North Shore Hospital study also identified a number of lifestyle factors that helped reduce the frequency of episodes during the pandemic.

They included better rest (52 per cent), reduced anxiety or worry (46 per cent) and increased exercise (33 per cent).

GP Ginni Mansberg said while self-care routines vary in effectiveness, they can be a great addition to clinical treatment.

“The key to managing migraine is often learning how certain factors may trigger attacks and what measures can help avoid them,” Dr Mansberg said.

“A self-care routine, alongside a management plan informed by your doctor, can go a long way to addressing many triggers that patients can actually control.”

Recent data gathered by medical tracking app, Migraine Buddy, showed episode triggers also include sleep deprivation, variable weather, skipped meals and caffeine consumption.

Mother-of-three Sarah Orell began suffering migraines when first pregnant in 2019. She was diagnosed with intracranial hypertension, a condition involving increased pressure in the brain.

The 36-year-old likens her attacks to concussion, experiencing vision loss, heart palpitations and pain so intense, it often leaves her bed ridden.

Following brain surgery 2020 and again last year, Sarah was afforded only brief periods of remission and continues to experience daily episodes lasting, on average, six hours.

She said it’s essential she manages her condition to enjoy time with her kids and live as “normally” as possible.

“A lot of my triggers are things I can’t control like the weather and environmental triggers, so it’s imperative I manage the triggers that I can through self-care,” she said.

“Initially it was the stress of the pandemic that really affected me, as well as the huge disruption to my routine. With the kids at home all the time while we we’re also working from home, it really is a delicate balancing act.”

Migraine and Headache Awareness Week runs from September 20-24. For more information, register at at www.headacheaustralia.org.au

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