Migraine 101

 

 

The word migraine is a familiar one to most yet there is a lot of confusion surrounding them. Migraines are anything but straightforward. In fact, many medical professionals debate over the definition, cause, and treatment.

The basic foundation of the definition of a migraine according to Webster dictionary is a condition marked by recurring moderate to severe headache with throbbing pain that usually lasts from four hours to three days, typically begins on one side of the head but may spread to both sides, is often accompanied by a variety of symptoms. Some people believe that it is a genetic neurological disease.

Of course, there can be other causes in addition to genetics such as stress, trauma, or chronic illness. Many times the cause of a migraine disorder is unknown.

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There are a total of four stages of a migraine, but not everyone encounters each stage which is prodrome, aura, headache, and post-drome. First, prodrome occurs one or two days before a migraine. Many people do not experience aura which is nervous system symptoms before or during a migraine. The stage headache also is known as the attack is an actual migraine which can last anywhere from 4 hours to 72 hours if untreated according to Mayo Clinic. Lastly, post-drome occurs afterward for around 24 hours.

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Being able to recognize the signs of a migraine are essential. A migraine can be accompanied by an array of symptoms.

Some symptoms include

  • extreme pain,
  • light smell or sound sensitivity
  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • pain on one side
  • pain down the neck
  • vision changes
  • numbness
  • Vertigo
  • Feeling lightheaded or dizzy
  • Puffy eyelid
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Fatigue
  • Diarrhea – constipation
  • Mood changes
  • Food cravings
  • Hives
  • Fever

Symptoms of a migraine are vastly different for every person. Furthermore, symptoms may vary different episodes. Likewise, triggers are unique to everyone.

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Some triggers include but are not limited to

  • Stress
  • Hormonal Changes
  • Weather
  • Foods such as aged cheeses, salty foods and processed foods
  • Skipping Meals
  • Dehydration
  • Lack of Sleep
  • Additives in foods like MSG
  • Drinks like alcohol or caffeine
  • Sensory stimuli. Bright lights and sun glare can induce migraines, as can loud sounds. Strong smells — including perfume, or paint thinner

 

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The majority of the time migraines are diagnosed on a clinical exam and from discussing episodes with a physician. Additionally, they will consider medical history, symptoms, and perform a neurological examination. Other medical tests may be ordered to rule out another illness or if the pain seems unreasonably severe or is unusual.

 

 

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Welcome December

I adore the Christmas season, it is absolutely magical. Beauty overflows all around from stunning lights to warm smiles to traditions and so much more. Christmas carols sweetly fill the air. The Christmas season brings joy as it reassures us gently that things will be okay. It helps us connect with our inner child reminding us of the wonderful Christmas memories. At the same time, it encourages us to move forward filling us with a hope like no other. It unites us with those we hold dear in our hearts. I cherish every aspect of Christmas.

Unfortunately chronic illness and the stressful demands that go with it does not take a holiday. The doctors appointments, treatment, and testing still must be done. Chronic illness tends to complicate things and get in the way of our joy during this season. It is easy to lose focus of the beauty in this season when we are consumed with emotion and pain. When the world seems to be caving in on us and everything seems to be falling apart. Chronic illness isolates us. We feel the effects more so this time of year. Finding a balance between doing things and resting becomes more difficult. For some, this season is depressing, reminding them of all they cannot do.

I hope you are able to take the time to rest and reflect this holiday season. Take to reflect about all the ways you have grown as an individual, all you have accomplished, all the blessings in your life, and everything you have overcome the past few months. You, my friend, have come so far. I am proud of you. You deserve to take time for yourself this busy season. You are an inspiration. Your story is breathtaking and laced with beauty along with encouragement it will change lives. I pray your strength is renewed. The Lord will bless you greatly this season, be open to all he has to offer for you.

I pray you would have a flare free Christmas season. I hope that despite your pain you are able to enjoy this season of blessing. Cherish every moment with those you hold dear to your heart. Hold onto the Christmas spirit. I pray that this season would bless you with little to no pain, plenty of spoons, memories, joy, and love. “It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas.”

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Lupus

“Yes, you need to know what Lupus is all about, but above all you need the strength and resourcefulness to battle with the wolf in its lair. The wolf will always be with you, but you can put a leash on it and make it heel.”

Lupus is known as the cruel mystery. People have heard of the illness before, but few know what it is and even fewer understand it. The way Lupus presents itself is as unique as our finger prints. Its complexity confuses medical professionals. Researches are working on formatting better testing, finding the cause of the illness, and developing better medication. Many aspects are highly controversial at this time such as causes of lupus and the diagnostic criteria.

So, what is Lupus? It is an autoimmune disorder in which the immune system is over active and confused. Those of us with Lupus are being attacked by our immune systems. It attacks anything from joints to skin to kidneys and everything in between. In a healthy person (or in someone who does not have an autoimmune disorder) the immune system fights off bacteria and viruses. It essentially works endlessly to keep you healthy.

If you don’t have Lupus I urge you to educate yourself, just a little. A little bit does go a long ways.

The search for a diagnosis seems like an endless and hopeless road. From my observations this is true when being diagnosed with any chronic illness, not just Lupus. The more I connect with those who are chronically ill, watch medical shows, or read spoonie stories I repetitively hear the horror of the individual searching for a medical answer. Many factors play into this inadequate testing, lack of knowledge in the medical field, bad doctors, the illness not progressed enough, ect..

If you are new to the Lupie World… Welcome. I know you’d rather not be a part of this ‘club’. I know that there are many emotions swarming you as you attempt to process everything. If you have been searching for answers to your symptoms, having a diagnosis is exciting and a relief in a way. On the other hand if you didn’t have any symptoms and no idea an illness had invaded your body I am sure this is utterly shocking. Where do you go from here? That is the million dollar question. A question that has a thousand answers but has no answer at all.

Allowing yourself to process that you have Lupus is important. I also advise that you educate yourself as much as possible about Lupus. When I got diagnosed I found the Lupus Foundation of America to be an excellent resource. Their webpage is great, in addition you can call them to ask questions. The Lupus Foundation also sent me information about treatments, living with Lupus, doctor information, and a magazine. I am so grateful that the Lupus foundation is the way it is. I cannot say thank you enough for the support and resources that I have received from them.

Life is never the same once you get a diagnosis. For better or worse things need to change. Most people need to adjust their life style, that is not saying that their life style was unhealthy. The life style of a healthy person is different then someone who lives with Lupus because the body needs different things. You will need to change your diet, how you exercise, and learn how to pace yourself. Of course, there is a good chance that you will need medication. Again I encourage you to do your homework. Educate yourself about the medication you are going to put in your body. Personally, I have a lot more confidence in trying a new medication when I know what to expect and the possible side effects.

Learning how to pace yourself is a huge challenge. Learning when you need to push a little harder and when you need to rest. Learning to rest is an obstacle for most people. Resting can feel like a waste of time. However, regardless of how you feel it is  a necessity. Your body needs to rest sometimes and that is okay. Resting can help avoid flare ups.

Lupus effects everything not just your body it effects your life and your emotional well being. It is essential to address the emotional roller coaster. Ignoring it and shoving it under the rug will only make things more difficult. It is tempting to shove the emotional aspect of Lupus under the rung most times, because there are so many other things demanding our attention. Depression and anxiety can be rooted in Lupus. Like any emotional illness sometimes depression or anxiety associated with Lupus can be treated with lifestyle changes other times medication needs to play a role.

Isolating yourself can be easy with any chronic illness. Many of us lose friends. It is difficult to keep in contact with people due to various symptoms, holding a conversation at times is utterly draining. Sometimes people avoid talking to others because of a rudely obnoxious lack of understanding. Even so, we need support. Isolation is not healthy for anyone. Having a support system is vital. In addition, I have found it helpful to find some support online through online support groups or pages an individual can like on Facebook.

I could go on for hours about Lupus and living with it. For now I will try to wrap it up so that this post doesn’t take too many spoons. I hope that you have found something in the post helpful. Welcome to the World of Lupus. You will be an amazing warrior who will demonstrate strength and courage daily. The road a head will be hard, but you have all the strength you need and you are never alone. Your story will give others the courage to keep fighting and to live their life.

How long did it take you to receive your diagnosis? What is the hardest thing about living with Lupus for you right now?

My favorite Lupus Resources:

http://www.lupus.org/

http://www.lupusny.org/

http://www.mollysfund.org/

Pages to like on Facebook:

World According to Lupus

Lupus and Me

Non- Lupus Resources:

http://restministries.com/

http://www.butyoudontlooksick.com/articles/written-by-christine/the-spoon-theory/

http://www.fightlikeagirlclub.com/

POTS

I am an expert at passing out, it’s a skill that not many people have. Then again most people do not need this skill. I can recall the seconds leading up to each time I passed out vividly. I have passed out well over a dozen times.  I know when it is going to happen. The warning sings are always the same first I feel dizzy, then my hearing fades, weakness increases steadily, then the vision leaves, and boom I pass out. Once the passing out shuffle begins I spring into action. Either telling whoever is around or by getting to the floor as quickly as possible. Usually someone says my name a few times and I’m back. No biggie. Extremely tiring but not tragic.

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October is Dysautonomia Awareness Month.  Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome is a form of Dysautonomia. What in the world is it? “Dysautonomia is an umbrella term used to describe several different medical conditions that cause a malfunction of the Autonomic Nervous System. The Autonomic Nervous System controls the “automatic” functions of the body that we do not consciously think about, such as heart rate, blood pressure, digestion, dilation and constriction of the pupils of the eye, kidney function, and temperature control. People living with various forms of dysautonomia have trouble regulating these systems, which can result in lightheadedness, fainting, unstable blood pressure, abnormal heart rates, malnutrition, and in severe cases, death.” Dysautonomia is not rare, at all, it is just rarely diagnosed. Many people live undiagnosed or misdiagnosed.

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The tilt table test is used to diagnosis POTS. Web MD gives this explination of the test: “The test involves lying quietly on a bed and being tilted at different angles (30 to 60 degrees) for a period of time while various machines monitor your blood pressure, electrical impulses in your heart, and your oxygen level.

The head-up tilt table test usually takes one to two hours to complete. However, that may vary depending on the changes observed in your blood pressure and heart rate and the symptoms you experience during the test. Before the test begins, a nurse will help you get ready. The nurse will start an IV (intravenous) line. This is so the doctors and nurses may give you medications and fluids during the procedure if necessary.You will be awake during the test. You will be asked to lie quietly and keep your legs still.”

From my experience the tilt table test made me sick but did not increase my pain. Overall I found the test extremely boring. I was only up a few minutes before I began passing out. They laid me down and pumped me up with saline with extra sodium. The tilt table test does need to be done in the morning.

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The most common types of Dysautonomia are: Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome, Neurally Mediated Syncope, and Multiple System Atrophy.  POTS can develop in the adolescent years and some out grow it. In other cases it is a secondary illness and is a chronic condition. Some POTS patients are misdiagnosed with an anxiety disorder. POTS is not an anxiety disorder nor is it cause by one. The role anxiety plays is a symptom. I received my POTS diagnosis almost a year ago. The possibility of me having POTS was mentioned during my Reclast hospital vacation. I had heard of the syndrome, however my knowledge was extremely limited. Of course I researched POTS before my diagnosis was set in stone. Once I learned more about POTS I knew I had it. It was something I lived with, I just had to get the doctors as usual to see what I already knew. My doctor ran the tilt table test. My POTS presents many obstacles daily. It is an incontinence illness.

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Though I like the doctor who is in charge of managing my POTS, most times he is unsure how to help. POTS can be challenging to treat. There is nothing my doctor can currently do other then prescribe a beta blocker for high heart rate. Of course, he advises the normal things such as eat sodium, wear compression stockings, pace yourself, ect…

It has almost been a year sense my official diagnosis. My POTS has improved greatly. This is mostly because of Prednisone. One of the biggest challenges I live with currently due to POTS is various organs not getting enough blood. Again, no one really knows how to help this issue in my body. My balance is off still. Right now it’s great I only fall into walls instead of completely collapsing. Collapsing out of no where is inconvenient and unsafe.

Normal activities are challenging for people with POTS. Being up right, being on their feet for a few minutes, and showering are difficult and sometimes dangerous things.

I watched something on POTS where a doctor recommended anyone with  POTS to wear a helmet in the shower. Comical. And impractical. How would you propose washing your hair with a helmet. Yes, falling in the shower is unsafe but a helmet is not the best solution.

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A lot more research needs to be done in order for patients to receive better treatments. That is one reason raising awareness for POTS and other chronic illnesses is essential. Thank you for reading about my POTS journey. I hope it can help someone or that someone can learn something from this post.

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But You Don’t Look Sick

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“But you don’t look sick..” A saying that chronically ill people hear way too often. For those who have recently meet me I look like a normal 21 year old girl. But my family and church family are able to see the difference in me.

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The girl who stares back at me when I look in the mirror is someone I do not recognize. That girl is not me. She has a rounded face, pale skin, thinning hair, and tired eyes. I am…or in reality was a girl with dark olive skin, bight and energetic eyes, thin, and tall with thick dark brown hair that most people mistake for black. I have changed drastically sense becoming ill. I am not the same girl physically or emotionally. Not all the alterations have been negative. It is difficult sometimes to be so different compared to who I was before I became ill. Medications have altered my body somewhat, but the majority of the physical changes are due to Lupus. At times looking through photos is difficult. I like who I have become. But the physical changes are hard to grasp. My body doesn’t feel like my own… it is like borrowing something that doesn’t fit right. Appearance doesn’t matter as much as it use to. It is more about feeling healthy and functioning; living again. I try to focus on this and the hallmark of what inwardly make me, Victoria. Some days it works amazingly. With no make up and hair up I feel like myself and I feel pretty.  Other days, are more difficult after layers of make up and many spoons wasted tears of frustration wash it away.

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“But you don’t look sick..” is never a comforting phrase. People might think it is a compliment, but it is not. It makes us feel like you do not believe how sick we are. Our outwards appearance, does not reflect the war going on inside of our body twenty four seven. Thankfully the destruction is not visible.

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Those who are chronically ill learn all the make up, clothing, and hair tricks. She learns to fake a smile. To be a ray of sunshine. To pretend to be a healthy girl. Behind closed doors, everything is different. The make up comes off, the hair goes up, pj’s on, and the tears flow. With her head buried in her pillow she wonders how she made it through another day thankful no one saw though her mask. Insiting that she doesn’t look sick only adds to her struggle. Your words weigh more then you know.

Your world drastically changes in every way possible when you are chronically ill. It is like living on another planet in comparison to how thing were when you were healthy. Adjusting is difficult. You need to be patient with yourself. Allow yourself time to adjust to all the alterations your illness has imposed. Remember, that there is much more to you then the person looking at you in the mirror. Yes you might look different and that is okay, you are still beautiful. In addition to physical beauty, you have a stunning personality.

How do you cope with the changes your illness has caused?

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My Invisible Fight

If you know me, you know I am chronically ill. My illness does not define who I am but it is a part of me. I look at as a trait not necessarily positive or negative. Like having brow hair, an oval face, or having dimples. My invisible fight. Words that empower. Words that inspire. Words that sum up my life over the past few years.

Without a doubt I have become a fighter, in this invisible fight. Few people know the details of my fight. Chronic illness is much more than what is seen on the surface. The battle is within. Falling apart only behind closed doors.

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I had many encounters with terrible doctors. No one took me seriously (I still struggle with this today). Doctors downplayed any concerns. My mom was my advocate, my voice. Growing up I was dangerously shy. If someone were to look at me crossed I would shrink back into my shell. Hearing my middle name released a waterfall of tears. Speaking up, was terrifying for me. Gradually I began to find my voice and become my own advocate. I have educated myself on treatment options, my illnesses, and everything medical that is relevant. I have learned that I know my body and my illnesses better than any doctor. After all I am the one who lives with it every moment of every day.  I fought to find my voice. My mom and I fought to find good doctors.

My health began to spin out of control in high school. It became evident that something was really wrong. Little by little new symptoms would develop. A new rash, unbearable pain, sun sensitivity, collapsing, weight loss, hair loss, and that was only the beginning. Medical testing became the norm of my life. Blood work that included more than thirty tubes of blood, MRIs, x-rays, GI studies, CATSCANS, scopes, EKGs, EEGS, and other medical tests that I cannot recall the names to. In addition, I had five operations in high school. The operations ranged from removing my tonsils to removing cysts to explority surgery.I thought I had hit rock bottom my junior year of high school, after an encounter with a medication that caused seizures. Little did I know rock bottom was much further down. Little did I know that I would long to go back to those high school years and deal with that pain and those symptoms.

I felt like the pause button has been hit one too many times. I have been home bound many times over the past six or so years. Every time play was hit and I began to recover, get stronger, and move forward pause would be hit yet again. It seems like each time my life is put on pause gets longer and finding the play button becomes more difficult. 

My invisible fight was taken to a new level in college first due to pluricy. Then to finding bloody urine that indicated a sever double kidney infection lasting four months. I was taken off my Lupus medication which gave Lupus permission to recklessly attack. I began seeing doctors every few days, had medical testing weekly, and became a regular at urgent care. I landed myself in the cardic unit last September. I continued to get worse. More testing. More doctors. More pain. Hopeless.

My symptoms shifted. My abdomen began to give me issues again. This time it was worse. Abdominal swelling to the point of looking at least six months pregnant was my newest symptom.  I began to question how much more my body could take. How many more days of intense pain that sent me to bed screaming and doubling over. I was taped. Giving in to the fight was tempting. No one had answers. No one knew what to do.

Things were terrible. Eating was difficult and staying hydrated was nearly impossible. The fatigue was thick yet my body wouldn’t surrender to sleep. I had to rest going up or down the stairs. Breathing was a chore. Shower a hazard. Daily tasks seemed like huge projects. Some days I couldn’t bend down to put on my own socks.

Finally it happened. This past April, I hit rock bottom. I could barely move. The pain and fatigue were more intense than I can describe. I was admitted to the hospital for ten days. https://chronicallyhopeful2014.wordpress.com/2015/05/02/hospitalization/

Looking back I believe that being admitted was the best thing for my health overall. I was at rock bottom. It was more difficult to keep moving forward than I can describe.

When I received the message on Chronically Hopeful inviting me to help and participate in Invisible Illness Awareness week I was shocked and over joyed. I firmly believe that sharing our invisible fight stories is vital. Someone had shared the fight song. I immediately connected with it and shortly after fell in love with the lyrics. I feel like that is where I am in my invisible fight, taking back my life. Taking back life after dramatic pauses is difficult. At times it is painfully slow. Progress seems invisible.  Taking back my life and continuing to fight is a daily decision and struggle. I am mastering a new balance act with my invisible fight and the rest of my life.

My invisible fight has probably been the most difficult fight of my life. I know it will continue to be a tough fight. It has caused me physical pain, heartbreak, taken me on an emotional roller coaster, played tug a war with my faith, caused me to lose friends, and lose much more. Yes, there are countless negative attributions of my invisible fight, but I am sincerely and deeply grateful to be in this fight. First of all I am grateful because I believe that God will use my invisible fight for his glory. Through my invisible fight I have matured as a person and as a Christian. I have learned so much. I have meet some of the most inspiring people. I have had the honor of running Chronically Hopeful and helping with the Invisible Illness Awareness Campaign. My prayer is that my invisible fight will be a testomy, inspiration, and blessing to others.

Picking A College

An overview of my journey so far in college. Advice for Spoonies looking to attend college.

Most of you know that I’m a college student. My academics are important to me. Lately i have been struggling to keep my head above water in regards to my school work. My abdominal pain has been getting worse daily. It has taken over my life.

I have always enjoyed school over all. Of course there are days I don’t love it and subjects I don’t like.

Preparing for college was a challenge due to my illness. I began my search early but I wish I started sooner. I choose a college three hours away which was not ideal. I had e expected to be able to go to school full time and have a job. I thought once i began medication i would improve quickly. I had unrealistic expectations. I began school two months,after my fifth surgery. I don’t recommend this.

My parents add I soon realize me going to school so far,away want a good idea. My heath got worse. But i was determined to finish the semester. Over Thanksgiving break I had blood in my urine…game over. I knew I couldn’t go back to school. I completed my first semester online. My plan was to get better over break then go away to school again closer to home. However, with a sever double kidney infection that was not an option. Recently I scheduled my classes with the ‘local’  (which is an hour away) community college. I tired to be happy and excited about the change. I greeted the semester with a good attitude and an open mind. The semester busted at the seams with obstacles. I had to receive antibiotics though an IV, a bladder scope, and a few dozen kidney stones. The rheumatologist I had been seeing took me off of my Lupus medications, which complicated things.

I had been able to get ahead with my classes. The flexibility with online learning is great. I completed the semester with a 3.5 GPA. I had been told that I am not a smart person through out my school career. I never expected to do this well in college. Last semester I ended up with a 4.0 GPA which I have mentioned before mainly because I am so surprised by it.

Entering college is scary and ecciting.  Picking a college and filling out the paper work can be stressful. It is a challenge to find the prefect school for you. I don’t know about you but I don’t know how I’ll feel five minutes from not never mind in a few months to a few years. I recommend beginning your college search as early as you can, this way you will have plenty of time to consider your options and it will be less stressful.

The biggest question is: is it realistic to live on campus (if that’s one of your dreams). It is best to discuss this with whoever helps take care of you, anyone in your support system, a school counselor, and your doctor. You need to make sure your health is stable enough to make that huge jump to living on a college campus. I would recommend either picking a college fairly close to home or near relatives or a close family friend. This way if you end up in the emergency room, are going for extensive testing, or need support someone you know well and trust fully is there for you.

In addition to being close to someone who knows your medical history and you trust there are many other factors to consider when choosing a college.

Some questions to ponder while searching for what college you will attend:

  • Consider what the area is like compared to wear you live. Is it city, suburban, or rural? Will living in the city for example affect your health? Personally I cannot live in the city due to the air and noise.
  • How close is the nearest hospital? What type of a reputation does it have?
  • Will you need to switch doctors? (If so, it is best you do research on what options you have for a new doctor. You want to be sure they know what they are doing and can properly care for you.)
  • Where is the pharmacy?
  • How long can I expect to have insurance coverage? (For example, up to what age am I covered? Do I need to be a full time student to receive or “get” full coverage?
  • Is there a nurse or licensed practitioner?
  • How big is the campus?
  • Where will you be living? Is the dorm building handicap accessible?
  • How many people will you need to share a room and a bathroom with?
  • Whats the food like? Would your body be okay with what the serve?

Let me know your thoughts in the comments! If you are in college currently or have already graduated please share other things to consider when picking a college.