Imagine head pain so incapacitating that you must retreat to a dark, quiet room where you lie in agony waiting for it to subside. Diana Burlew, of Fairfield Township, Ohio, knows all about it. For the past 20 years, she has suffered from excruciating pain that hits her like clockwork the week of her menstrual period. "You almost feel that if you were to slam your head against the wall it would somehow feel better," says Diana. That's what migraine headaches will do to you.
A complex disorder, migraines are more common than asthma, diabetes, or congestive heart failure. They inflict severe and often debilitating pain on about 26 million Americans, 75 percent of them women who, like Diana, are twice as likely to experience migraine during the first two days of their menstrual cycle than the rest of the month. Yet despite major advancements in treatment, a recent National Headache Foundation study estimates that less than half of migraine sufferers seek any kind of medical relief.
Even if they did ask for help, it's possible sufferers might not get the treatment and support they need. Migraines are often still unjustifiably linked to psychological problems, particularly among women, says Richard B. Lipton, MD, professor of neurology at Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University in the Bronx, New York. In short, women are more likely to have their pain dismissed as being more imagined than real, he says.
Continued on page 2: Feeling Your Pain