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Must-Read Time Article on Headache

A 2002 Time cover article on headache describes current migraine research — and the heretofore lack of said research — and what it means for people with headache. As the article says, “What [the research] all adds up is a revolutionary view of extreme headaches that treats them as serious, biologically based disorders on a par with epilepsy or Alzheimer’s disease.”

It’s a hopeful piece that shares the fascinating biology of headache as well as what headache sufferers actually go through. Although the article is three years old, it’s a step toward educating others that Tylenol doesn’t trounce migraines, chronic daily headaches and cluster headaches.

Now articles need to use this quote from the book Migraine and Other Headaches:

“In general, headache sufferers are worse off than people who have arthritis, roughly similar to those who have congestive heart failure severe enough to interfere with walking up and down stairs and only slightly better than people with AIDS.” (from All in My Head, by Paula Kamen, page 282)

The Time article is a must-read for people with headache and their loved ones. And it includes an awesome graphic of the path of a headache (you’ll find it under the graphics section of the sidebar).

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Identifying Food Triggers isn’t a Magic Cure

After almost a year of avoiding the topic of foods triggering headaches, I broached the subject last week. One of the reasons I haven’t talked about it for so long is that there’s a perception—among patients, some doctors and the media—that everyone can control their migraines with diet modification. As you may know from your own experience, identifying food triggers is helpful for some of us and not helpful for others.

In response to an NPR story on food and migraine, Paula Kamen, author of All in My Head (which is now available in paperback), writes on the WIMN’s Voices blog:

“…The truth is that EVERY disease has exacerbating influences, such as stress and certain foods, but that migraine (like other pain and fatigue disorders) carries a double standard, that it all should be in YOUR control. This advice that all people can control headache through food is like someone giving that advice to all diabetics (types 1 or 2), that they can control their problems just through foods. For some, this is the case. For others, that is dangerously unrealistic.”

Convincing arguments for this are in her post. She is also a regular contributor to WIMN’s Voices, so check out her terrific writing.

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All in My Head

All in My Head, the headache released memoir earlier this year, is not the self-indulgent rant that the New York Times summed it up as. Instead of taking center stage, author Paula Kamen’s experience with chronic headache frames medical information and cultural critique. Her critical approach encourages readers to question what they think they know, what they’re told and what they read.

In her more than 15 years of pain, Kamen has tried a vast array of treatments, from mainstream medicine to alternative treatments. She’s learned why some work, why others don’t, and why so many stop working over time. Kamen has also figured out ways to cope with the pain without denying the reality of it, but without wallowing in it either.

Reading about her journey, your headache knowledge will increase and you’ll laugh a lot. Like when you read the conversation she had with her therapist in the mid-1990s about finding support in online chat rooms. (One of the therapist’s responses was, “Your computer has rooms in it?”)

ChronicBabe’s review examines the models of coping that are traditionally available to those with pain and praises Kamen’s new approach. Links to more reviews and snippets of praise are at the end of the article. If you’re still not convinced, maybe these bits of wisdom that I gleaned from the book will win you over.

  • Headache sufferers are considered to be more disabled than people with arthritis, about equal to those with severe congestive heart failure and only slightly less disabled than people with AIDS
  • A majority of preventive meds have little evidence of efficacy
  • Elvis Presley had migraines and the drugs that were in his system when he overdosed were common migraine treatments in the 1970s