By Cathi Stevenson
Loise Coish was about 20 years old when she first experienced an excruciating, stabbing pain in her left temple. This, along with a burning sensation, numbness in her left cheek, a watery eye and blurred vision, left the young woman confused and frightened. Several more attacks followed, and she spent the next few years going from doctor to doctor and visiting emergency rooms, trying to find out what was wrong.
"I have had cat scans done…and cortisone shots to the base of the skull. One shot every three months, or so. This would work for a short time, but after a while the injections were too painful to have done." Suspecting a previous blow to the head was the cause of her severe discomfort, one neurologist even severed the nerve endings at the base of her skull. It was many painful and frustrating years before Ms. Coish was diagnosed as suffering from cluster migraines. Cluster migraines, sometimes referred to as cluster headaches, are similar to migraines in their debilitating nature. Both are vascular in origin. Unlike traditional migraines though, cluster headaches are quite rare and are seen more often in men than women. There is usually no nausea associated with a cluster migraine.
Headaches of all types are a significant cause of chronic pain in this country. Twenty-seven per cent of Canadians under age 45 reported that they suffered from chronic pain due to migraines, according to Statistics Canada. This figure rises to 51 per cent for those over 65, although actual instances of the disorder decrease with age. Many celebrities and historical figures are, or were, migraine sufferers, including Thomas Jefferson, Elvis Presley, Elizabeth Taylor and Sigmund Freud.
How does a person know if what they have is a migraine, or just a bad headache? The Canadian Migraine Association (www.migraine.ca) says that if you suffer two or more of the following symptoms, you should contact your family doctor to determine if you are experiencing migraine, or cluster headaches.
* Moderate to severe headache pain that is aggravated by physical activity. * A headache that lasts from several hours to several days * You experience blind spots, lines, flashing lights or “heat waves” shortly before, or during a headache. * You become nauseous along with the headache. * You become unusually sensitive to light, strong odors, or sound. * The pain is worse on one side of the head . * The pain is pounding or throbbing. * The pain is localized around one eye.
There are many treatments, both holistic and pharmaceutical that can ease the symptoms, and frequency of migraines. These include everything from avoiding certain foods such as aged cheese, and wine to Codeine and other drugs.
After her diagnoses, Ms. Coish began experimenting with a variety of medications, that her doctor prescribed. "Finally, Dihydroergotamine (DHE) injections have helped. I inject myself three times a day, for seven days. This treatment has given me the longest relief time." This is no cure though, 25 years after her initial diagnoses she still has migraines that "…may last for two years on a nightly basis."
"Cluster migraines attack usually while you are asleep. You may experience up to three attacks per night, for many nights and suddenly they disappear for another few months. I've gone as long as a year without an attack," explains Coish. For this she is thankful, since she can usually function during the day, even if she does have a sleepless night. She'll be even more thankful when someone discovers a way to rid her of this illness altogether.
For more information on migraines, cluster migraines and available treatments, visit these sites:
Migraine Infocenter for a comprehensive look at all the treatment strategies