Migraine – the hidden disease which affects 13,000 people every day in this country

by Rachel Cunningham
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If you were asked to guess what the the World Health Organisation (WHO) has classified as the second greatest cause of disability worldwide in people aged under 50 years, what would you say?

Many are surprised to learn that Migraine Disease is a complex neurological disorder, severe attacks of which have been classified by the WHO as among the most disabling illnesses, comparable to dementia, quadriplegia and active psychosis. 

Its symptoms can involve intense throbbing headaches, nausea and vomiting, sensitivity to light, noise and smells and blurred vision.

On any given day, at least 13,000 people in Ireland experience a migraine attack

Migraine affects between 12 and 15 per cent of the population, which means 600,000 people in Ireland suffer from the condition.

Between five and 10 per cent of those have chronic migraine, where they experience severe pain and debilitating symptoms for at least 15 days each month. 

As an issue that primarily affects women, the Chief Executive Officer of Migraine Ireland said it’s no coincidence that it is trivialised as a ‘headache’ illness. 

“The ratio is 70 per cent women and thirty per cent men and children, as well,” said Pascal Derrien. 

“There’s a huge burden socially, but obviously also professionally, so the rate of unemployment is four to six times higher. 

“There’s an impact of roughly €250m on average the Irish economy, per annum. 

“From a professional perspective, it impacts the type of work you’re doing, it impacts your opportunity to do some jobs.”

Mr Derrien explained to the Dublin Gazette that there are a number of barriers for this hidden illness, including the fact that it can take up to seven years to get a diagnosis.

Often, people who suffer from migraines are reluctant to disclose this to their workplace, due to associated stigma.

“While 800,000 people suffer from a neurological disorder, such as Parkinson’s, epilepsy and Motor Neurone Disease, 600,000 people alone are migraineurs,” said Mr Derrien, who is also the chair of the neurological alliance of Ireland.

“From a support perspective, it’s the one that is the least reported, even though it’s the most prevalent. 

“There’s a lot of trivialisation and stigmatisation, which is why we started our workplace programme three years ago, where we debunk myths.”

The Chief Executive Officer said that, although people in the workplace need to be aware of this condition, migraineurs also need to open the conversation for small positive changes to happen. 

“Whether it’s ventilation or visual stress, there are a few things that can help, although it may not solve everything,” he said.

“When we go into a workplace, we try to convey that someone may have a condition where they seem to be slacking but they aren’t; they want to work, they want to function but they cannot. Perception is not always reality in my book.”

With celebrity sufferers ranging from Serena Williams to Joan Didion, a migraine diagnosis doesn’t have to prevent success in your field but it will most likely involve the need to adapt. 

The Migraine Ireland website includes a number of tips to make an office environment more migraine-friendly, from seeking out education or making job sharing available, to providing screen guards for computers and swapping out fluorescent lamps for LED energy efficient lamps that are glare free. 

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