The disease without a cure and a lot of stigma that affects millions of people

Laura was 13 years old when she began to experience some Headaches so intense that his classmates thought he was lying. Paola (fictitious name) had 25 . He was working and he remembers always having the glass of water and the pill for the pain . A few years later, both joined the list of people diagnosed with migraine. Today there are more than 5 million, only in Spain . However, according to the Spanish Neurology Society (SEN) , there is still a 40% of migraineurs who do not have received a diagnosis.

Therefore, today is celebrated the European Day of Action against Migraine , to raise awareness about a disease that, unfortunately, continues to carry a strong stigma. “Headache? It won’t be that bad either. ” But it is. In fact, more than 80% of patients with migraine have some type of disability. Such is the number of people affected in this way that it is the leading cause of disability in Spaniards under the age of 50.

Diagnosis: migraine

When Laura started with the headaches, being still small, the first reaction was to send her to the optics . There they initially put glasses on him to look at the blackboard in class, but the headaches didn’t stop. “My mother was still very worried, so she took me to the family doctor,” she says on the other end of the phone. He advised him to make a diary , indicating how many episodes he had, how intense, how long they lasted and some other data, including, for example, the food he ate . The analysis of this diary allowed him to finally be diagnosed with migraine at the age of 14-15.

Only 17% of people with migraine take the correct medication

Paola had to insist that she be referred to a specialist. “In the end I found a very good family doctor who did refer me, but since I had a history of anxiety and depression, they first sent me to mental health.” There she was lucky enough to be treated by a psychiatrist who suffered from migraines and immediately knew what her problem was. “He told me he had a book migraine.” It was she who decided to refer her to the neurologist . There he finally received his diagnosis.

Both began with a preventive treatment, on a daily basis. Laura was prescribed flunarizine and Paola pregabalin . Laura says that at first it helped her to distance the episodes of migraine, but that one summer she forgot to take them and saw that there was hardly any difference. Therefore, he discussed it with his doctor and finally decided to leave them.

Paola also says that she was doing well, it lessened her migraines a lot, but it left her “wrecked”. “Your blood pressure drops a lot, you get dizzy when you get up … and driving wasn’t going well at all.” She also stopped this drug with the agreement of her doctor and, like Laura, to this day she only takes rescue medication when the episodes occur. They both speak of the Nolotil. Laura also resorts to Ibuprofen, but Paola to Paracetamol, because she is allergic to these anti-inflammatories.

Today, Laura is 37 years old and Paola 38. Both have lived with migraine for many years and have learned which drugs they feel best with . This is the case for many migraineurs. However, as also explained by the SEN, only 17% of people with migraine use the correct medication to treat their attacks. Many decide not to take drugs on a daily basis, since, according to Laura, they fear ending up with ulcers or stomach problems.


Migraine patients not only learn what are the best drugs for them. Also what are your triggers ; because, although there are many points in common, each case is very different. And it is something they learn little by little. stress , very loud noises or lack of sleep are common. As for food, exciting substances, like chocolate, Laura feels very bad. On the other hand, he does not feel that the coffee affects him, as for example his cousin, who also has a migraine. Paola does notice that if she overdoes it with coffee she can have more headaches and, in general, she should avoid large meals.

This variability is also pointed out by doctor Pablo Irimia , Coordinator of the Headache Study Group of the Spanish Society of Neurology, in a press release from the SEN. However, note that, in general, triggers can be divided into five groups: “ Stress, fasting, atmospheric changes, factors related to sleep, and in women, hormonal changes ”.

If the patient detects all this, he can anticipate the crisis and resort to rescue medication. The two people interviewed for this article pretty much do it. In fact, Laura laughs that her sister compares her to Storm, from the X-Men , because an incipient headache alerts you when the weather is about to change.

Much more than headaches

“When I have a strong crisis I feel a stabbing pain in the eyebrow and the upper area of ​​the eye that pulls backwards, to the occiput ”, says Laura. “Loud sounds bounce off my head like a hammer.

25% of patients with migraine in Spain have not yet seen a doctor

Paola’s description is equally harsh. “They can be episodes of several days, with constant pain. You sleep with him, you wake up with him, but at least he allows you to work, ”he says. “However, strong crises are shorter, but much more painful and disabling . You put your hands to your head and you scream, because you feel as if a burning nail is being driven into the side of your head. ”

In addition, both explain that when they have a crisis they need to lie down and go into a room with little light and no noise , because the slightest stimulus is painful. These episodes can last for days, followed by another in which, in Laura’s words, it feels “like a hangover “. In Paola’s, “like shoelaces “. There is still some pain and weakness and, according to the latter, if any of these stimuli returns, a new episode can begin.

Dr. Irimia explains that the symptoms of Migraine headaches include headache, malaise, nausea, vomiting, and intolerance to light, smells, or sounds, among others. In addition, it points out that “ headache crises cause a great impact on the patient, both in physical, emotional and social aspects, as well as with family, work and social relationships. and they could even determine limitations in education or professional development due to their early onset, in many cases in childhood or adolescence. ”

Despite all this , there are still people who prefer not to consult their doctor, for fear that he thinks it is an exaggeration. Specifically, 25% of patients with migraine in Spain still have not seen a doctor for this reason . For a long time that was the case with Laura’s aunt, who ended up going very late, when the pain was already very strong. And this is a problem, since neurology specialists warn that many of these people only decide to seek help when the migraine has already become chronic.

The stigma behind migraine

If there are so many patients with migraine who prefer not to go to the doctor, it is precisely because today day there is still a stigma behind, due to the perception that they exaggerate the effect of their headaches.

“They don’t understand our pain threshold,” explains Paola

“It was especially hard when I started when I was little, because the children didn’t understand it,” Laura remembers. “As an adult I have also seen a lot social stigma , for example at work. It has ever happened to me that they have looked at me badly, because they think I am making it up. ”

Paola says that people do not say it, but it shows that they think. “I am lucky that at work one of my colleagues has a brother who suffers from migraines and understands me very well,” she explains. “Other colleagues are empathetic when I ask that we lower the light a little or speak more softly, but after a while they forget and they raise the tone again or slam the door. But fortunately in general in my current job they understand it. Not so much in the past. ”

The problem is that those who do not know what migraines are cannot imagine what these people feel when they are taking a pill in work or they have to return home without finishing the day . “They don’t understand our pain threshold . If we take a pill it is not because it hurts a little. ”

Laura, without knowing Paola, thinks the same. “Migrainees learn to live with pain and that is something that people do not understand.”

And this it’s really sad. It is sad that they have to assume this. Although it is fortunate that there are increasingly effective treatments. But it is also a shame that there are people who have not yet been able to access them. That is why days like today are necessary to raise awareness about the importance of diagnosing this type of disease. And about the importance of eliminating one of the many stigmas related to health. Quite a few people have to deal with migraine pain or menstruation . Or those who learn to live with anxiety or feel that getting up every day is a world because of depression. Dealing with pain, physical or mental , is torture enough to have to prove it to be true. This is something we should never forget.