Professor aims to uncover more about migraine headaches
By Jeremy Craig
Migraine headaches can be downright debilitating and leave those stricken in agony.
To make matters worse, many medical providers don't fully understand migraines — how to properly diagnose them or how to treat them. And scientists who study these headaches are often at a loss in pinpointing exactly what triggers them or what might be helpful to prevent or treat them. What they do know is that roughly 75 percent of migraine sufferers are women.
In hopes of providing scientists a better window into this serious malady, Peggy Moloney, associate professor of nursing in the Byrdine F. Lewis School of Nursing and Health Professions, is going to the sufferers themselves.
In her work, she is developing online methods for women to track their migraines, what might have triggered them and what seems to provide relief.
“Migraines are one of the top 20 health care problems identified by the World Health Organization,” Moloney said. “And yet about half of all people never get diagnosed accurately or treated appropriately.”
Moloney can relate — she's experienced the horrible headaches herself.
“I've noticed that the first and last weeks of school were always weeks that I had them, and they were the worst ones I've had,” Moloney said. “I try to do all the things I can do, like keeping my stress level down, keeping to a schedule and avoiding wine in order to prevent them.”
Still, she and an estimated 16 to 18 percent of all women suffer from migraines, while 6 percent of men do. Common times of headache onset are during adolescence or menopause, when hormonal changes can trigger migraines.
Migraine symptoms can include extreme sensitivity to light and sound, nausea, fatigue, irritability, depression and a general feeling that the sufferer cannot focus on the tasks at hand.
Often, Moloney said, women who undergo the ordeal of migraines have to fight the prejudice of others who believe that sufferers are simply malingering — although many continue to work or perform other normal activities even while enduring a migraine's effects.
When the media reported that 2012 presidential candidate Michele Bachmann suffered from migraines, Moloney pointed out, some people questioned whether her headaches might affect her ability to carry out presidential duties.
“Since the news came out, there's been a lot of discussion in migraine circles about stigma,” Moloney said. “So a lot of what happens with these headaches is that sufferers don't tell other people. And sometimes, women have suggested that sometimes the only way the issue becomes legitimate in their workplace is when there is a man there who has experienced them.”
Moloney, a member of the American Headache Society, is not only helping to fight past the stigma, but also working through advocacy with lawmakers to get more research funding to study migraines.
“We, along with other groups, have been really concerned over the past few years over the relative lack of funding for migraines,” she said. “We're trying to increase understanding about the problem as a whole.”