A Note on Migraine

“I have a migraine.” – A common excuse to skip school or work, but do we really know what we’re saying?

In “A Treatise on Headache, 1853”, J.C. Peters described:

The character of the pains varied very much; most frequently they were of a hammering, throbbing or pushing nature…pressing and dull…boring with sense of bursting..pricking…rending…stretching…piercing…and radiating…In a few cases it felt as if a wedge was pressed into the head, or like an ulcer, or as if the brain was torn or pressed outwards.

For many, a visual migraine aura precedes the pain. The aura, with its zigzag shape, resembles the wavelike electrical disturbance passing through the visual parts of the brain. While most migraine auras remain elementary: phosphenes, fortifications and geometrical figures; others are complex. One wrote of always “seeing” a worker emerging from a manhole in the street, wearing a white hard hat with an American flag painted on it. Also, people may hallucinate smells before the onset of migraine. One wrote of always smelling beef roasting, about thirty minutes before the migraine began.

A migraine may affect one’s perception of colour or depth or movement, making the whole visual world unintelligible for a few minutes. Then one may suffer violent headaches, vomiting, painful sensitivity to light and noise, abdominal disturbances or other symptoms.

For more information, read Hallucinations by Oliver Sacks.

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