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7 Things Not To Say To Migraine Sufferers

by LaurettaCWright
7 Things Not To Say To Migraine Sufferers

I've had migraines since I was about 12 years old. With the onset of puberty I've been cursed with them. And I do see them as a curse; I've asked myself the same question for years: why me?

The first time I had a migraine, I really thought I was going to die. The pain was excruciating. And the only way I would get any relief from the pain was when I was sick and then tried to sleep.

Even now, some 30-odd years later, I'm still getting them. And they seem worse than ever, particularly with how frequently I'm getting them.

And it's not like I haven't tried to get rid of them either – hormone injections, acupuncture, implants, daith piercings, migraleve….you name it, I've tried it.

My last resort has been a preventative measure – 20mg of Nortriptyline tablets once a day for the rest of my life.

I've been on them for over three months now and although I've seen a significant improvement in the frequency and duration of the migraine attacks, it hasn't rid them completely.

The triggers

The annoying thing about my migraines is that they are triggered by lots of stimuli – musky smells, skipping meals, not enough sleep, periods, fluorescent lights, high (weather) pressure, dehydration and stress.

The worst culprits – and the ones guaranteed to give me a migraine without fail – are the hormonal time of the month and powerful scents.

And although I've learned to live with the migraines, I still feel like when I'm having an attack that I'd rather cut off my own hand if it meant that I didn't feel the pain in my head.

You should know that there are different types of migraine. Unfortunately, I've been given the short straw and suffer from the excruciating pain kind; give me an aura migraine any day and I'd be laughing. To be honest, I get those too, but they're not a patch on the acute pain migraines.

There are usually two different types of responses to migraines (a) People who also suffer from migraines and know exactly what you're going through and sympathise (b) Those who have never had a migraine and don't actually know anything about them.

So to all those people in the latter category, here are 7 of the worst things you can say to a migraine sufferer when they're having an attack – straight from the horse's mouth:

1. ‘Oooh, my aunt Pauline used to get migraines…'

Have a look at the person's face with a migraine. Does it look like they're interested in your auntie Pauline? Trust me when I suggest that you don't start telling any stories. The last thing a migraine sufferer wants to know (in the middle of an attack) is that your aunt gets them too. It doesn't help in making us feel better; we're in too much pain or discomfort to care about anyone else but ourselves. Ditch the stories and get them some help.

2. ‘I know how you feel…I get bad headaches too'

Don't assume a migraine is just a bad headache and certainly don't ever suggest this – it will only highlight how ignorant you are.

A migraine is a complex condition with a wide variety of symptoms. In my case, I get excruciating pain, usually on one side of my head and I feel the need to be sick.

I also need a dark room (I'm sensitive to light during an attack) and my smell sense is heightened, so any strong smells will make it much worse – usually it will just make me vomit.

3. ‘Come along after the migraine has gone'

If a migraine sufferer has had to cancel their plans with you, don't make them feel any worse by suggesting they join you when their migraine has gone.

Although it's normal to feel euphoric following a migraine attack (usually from the sheer relief that's it's over!), the person will still feel vulnerable and weak. The last thing they need is to feel pressured into recovering quickly so they can join the party later.

Besides, some people (me included) suffer from cluster migraines, meaning that the pain (and the dark cloud that accompanies the pain) can last anything from a day up to a week. Yep – definitely a curse.

4. ‘Have you been to the doctor?' ‘Have you thought about your diet?' ‘Have you tried acupuncture…?'

Forget the suggestions and the questions about why they have a migraine. Like I said, if a person is having an attack, they will not want to dissect the reasons they are getting one. Talk to them in a day or two, once it's over and I'm sure they'll explain what they've done to try and get rid of them.

5. ‘Would you like some headache tablets?'

Headache tablets won't even touch the sides when it comes to dealing with the pain. The person who has the migraine will know exactly what they need: let them tell you.

If you're going to the chemist to get something for them – ask for the pink/yellow migraleves. You take two pink tablets first and if it hasn't gone after four hours you take the yellow tablets.

Alternatively, chemists sell Sumatriptan over the counter – it's much more expensive but it will certainly take the heat off the migraine.

6. ‘Would you like some water? A cold compress? A hot water bottle?'

The only thing the person wants is for their migraine to go. If they're a regular sufferer, they'll know exactly what they need to help them, so forget the suggestions.

The worst thing you can do is make a fuss and create a scene. The person will not thank you for that. Swift and discreet help is always welcome.

7. ‘It'll probably go soon. Here, have a drink!'

Never underestimate how someone is feeling in the middle of a migraine attack. Trust me, it's one of the worst things in the world and it's so debilitating.

The migraine won't disappear with a drink – or even a bit a food. What the person needs is rest and recuperation, not to try and carry on as though everything is normal.

What to say (and do) for someone having a migraine attack

  1. Get them home as soon as possible: they will probably want to be sick/ take their meds/crawl into bed in a darkened room or all of the above. There's nothing else a migraine sufferer will crave more than this when in the middle of an attack.
  2. If it's not possible to get them home, ask what you can do for them. Examples might be get to the chemist to get some medicine, find them a bucket to be sick in, get them in a darkened room, get them to the nearest bathroom – or again, all of the above.
  3. Be prepared to help them by massaging where the pain is in their head. Get them lying down, keep them cool and ask them exactly where the pain is. Then, without too much pressure, slowly start massaging in a circular motion and be prepared to stick with it for a while. The pain might be too intense for the person at first and they may want to be left alone, but I have found this to be of some comfort myself on the odd occasion. In fact, I've even bought myself this little contraption which I tend to use every time I get an attack.

To all the migraine sufferers out there, I feel your pain – literally. I wouldn't wish an attack on my worst enemy and if I could do something to guarantee that I'd never get another migraine in my life, I'd do anything.

The truth is, not much is known about the real cause of migraines. And because of that, there's no miracle cure.

I just hope that in my case, the migraine gene skips a few generations so that my kids and future grandchildren don't suffer the curse. In 100 years from now, I'm sure we'll have access to something that stops migraines in their tracks – for good.

But for now, I'll stick with my pills, my sick bucket and a hell of a lot of sympathy.

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A Pin For You Health Board

If you know someone who suffers from #migraines or you know how they feel, then you'll appreciate this no-nosense look at what to avoid saying to those who suffer with them. Plus there are some handy tips on what you should do - and say!


United Memorial Medical Center 9th December 2019 - 4:06 pm

So true! I really appreciate your post! Thanks!

Anna Nicamhlaigh 18th August 2018 - 6:22 pm

I used to have them, not sure what the trigger was either, might have been stress. I used to lie down and black out for 2 -3 hrs. Not what you want to happen with a 2-3 year old in the house. They just suddenly stopped one year. Then I had visual migraine, which is pain free, but you feel kinda drunk. I got a kaleidoscope effect in my peripheral vision, not good when driving.
These days I’m free of them, but I do get the early warning as if they are going to come back sometimes. But heavens above it drives me nuts when people refer to them as headaches!!! (Excuse me while I hit the side of your head with a sledge hammer)

LaurettaCWright 23rd August 2018 - 4:24 pm

That’s amazing that they just stopped one day – I wish mine would! But it sounds like you’ve had a hard time of them in the past. Like you say it’s even worse when you have kids to look after. But it does help that you get the early warning signs so at least you can try and prepare for when it arrives by getting some childcare in. I’m now changing aspects of my diet to see what works and what doesn’t – I’ve done absolutely everything now – bar a brain transfer!

Laura Dove 12th August 2018 - 8:40 pm

I’ve had migraines ever since I was young too and see a neurologist every 3 months because they are so severe. I ‘ve just started a series of nerve blocker/muscle relaxant injections into my head and scalp to help, so far so good!

LaurettaCWright 14th August 2018 - 8:46 am

That’s fantastic Laura – and really good to know. It’s another option for down the line that I can look into – thank you and I really hope it works for you. x

Steph 11th August 2018 - 5:32 pm

Oh they are terrible aren’t they, my friends didnt understand when i had to cancel plans. Mine are stress releated, but it doesn’t take much to trigger them either. I have found laying down, dark room and pressing really hard on my pressure points on the side if my head for a while can help at times too.

scots2travel 9th August 2018 - 7:00 pm

People do often underestimate the sheer power and pain of a migraine. So agonising.

Fashion and Style Police 8th August 2018 - 1:12 pm

I agree with all you have mentioned here. I used to deal with migraines a lot when I was younger. Happy to have gone past that now.

Sara-Jayne 8th August 2018 - 11:18 am

I have migraines – they aren’t as bad as when I was pregnant each time. I went blind every time, and lost the use of my left arm. I had brain scans and all kinds of interventions and hospitalisations until they finally sent me to a neurologist who told me that I was suffering with migraines. My pain comes way after the blindness has gone, over the one side of my head. It’s terrifying. He told me hormones are the main cause, and foods containing hormones and caffeine, like milk, chocolate and cheese. So I had to cut it all out and I’ve been much better unless it’s PMT week. My worst response from anyone when you’re feeling like you might die – because my mom had a brain aneurysm and so I assumed that was what was about to happen to me – was that they have bad headaches too, or “Oh, I know, they’re bad, aren’t they?” I don’t want you to tell me how bad YOU felt, I want to be left alone. I hate any intervention when I’m in pain.

LaurettaCWright 11th August 2018 - 9:20 am

Crikey Sara-Jayne – you have gone through the mill and back with them as well haven’t you? Yes, I totally agree…having people fuss over you when you’ve got a migraine is pretty bad – you can barely concentrate on yourself, let alone answering questions from others. I hated getting migraines when I was pregnant – it was the worst thing because the doctor advised that I shouldn’t have medication at the time. I really do wish they’d come up with a cure once and for all…I expect that so many days of work are lost with people suffering from them.

Cath - BattleMum 8th August 2018 - 10:57 am

I’ve been very lucky not to have suffered from migraines but my sister does and they are very debilitating for her. Like you, she has tried everything as nd is now waiting to see a consultant about it.

LaurettaCWright 11th August 2018 - 9:22 am

Thanks Cath – best of luck to your sister – there are numerous things she’ll be offered. It’s a case of working through them and seeing if any of them help for her. Some (like my daith piercing and taking medication) have worked a little for me, but I’m still suffering from them.

Kara 8th August 2018 - 8:29 am

I have never had a migraine, in fact I rarely even suffer with hedaches so it is good to have an understanding of what they mean and the symptons

Helen 8th August 2018 - 5:19 am

Gosh I’ve never had a migraine before and it sounds so horrible! I really feel for you and it must be a bit of a relief now that you’ve noticed a marked improvement 🙂

LaurettaCWright 11th August 2018 - 9:23 am

Thanks Helen – definitely pleased there has been a great improvement, but I do wish they’d just be gone forever. It’s great that you know how people feel when they get a migraine so you know what to do 🙂 x

Laura - Dear Bear and Beany 7th August 2018 - 9:42 pm

Sorry to hear you suffer, I’ve never had one and don’t have much experience of them!

LaurettaCWright 11th August 2018 - 9:25 am

It’s great how most of us aren’t affected – I wouldn’t wish an attack on anyone!

Rebecca Smith 6th August 2018 - 3:21 pm

Sorry to hear that you suffer with them. I had them when I was a teen – doctors thought it was a mix of hormones and stress from exams that caused them but they eventually passed. Now when I have a headache, no matter how sorry I feel for myself, I know that it in no way is ever going to be as a bad as a migraine x

Kirsty 6th August 2018 - 11:40 am

I’ve had chronic migraines for years and they are the worst type of pain I’ve experienced. I’ve been told that it is just a bad headache, to not drink caffeine or eat cheese and that I’ll get over it, it’s ridiculous. I know what you mean about getting into a dark cool room and just wait for it to pass

LaurettaCWright 6th August 2018 - 11:53 am

So sorry to hear that Kirsty – yes people have suggested to me about things like cheese, chocolate, coffee etc too. But when I eat them, I’m fine. Chronic migraines are just THE worse though. I sympathise totally.

Elizabeth 5th August 2018 - 5:21 pm

I used to get migraines when I was a teenager – they were the most awful thing ever. I could only lie on the cold, dark bathroom floor and wait for it to pass. Thankfully they seemed to stop on their own. So sorry to hear this hasn’t been the case with yours. 🙁
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LaurettaCWright 5th August 2018 - 10:08 pm

In your case maybe it was a surge of hormones. I’m so pleased that they passed for me. I feel like I’ve missed out on a lot of things because of them and sadly that still seems to be the case.

michelle twin mum 4th August 2018 - 11:00 pm

Ohh bless you, sorry to hear you suffer with them. Luckily I’ve only ever had a couple on my life and no idea what triggered them. Mich x
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LaurettaCWright 5th August 2018 - 7:47 am

Sorry to hear that too Mich…I hope you never get one again. I know that they are more common in women than men. In fact, someone pointed out to me the other day that if mostly men suffered from them, there would push to get a cure by now. Makes you wonder…


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