I’ve suffered from migraines for years, and only once or twice has a headache accompanied the alarming list of neurological symptoms that seem to arise out of nowhere.

It always starts with a lightning-fast moment of confusion. That’s it. For a split second, I’m disoriented. And then my vision goes.

Within minutes, I can’t see at all. What starts with a few glittery zig-zags in my peripheral vision quickly turns into flashing lights, somewhat resembling a kaleidoscope, taking over my entire field of vision. The world around me slows down; I can’t produce any words, and I stumble. I open my mouth to ask for help, but nobody can hear me. I reach out for the nearest object to hold onto, but my arms move as if they are deep underwater, unable to reach any nearby anchors with precision. It’s too late.

I don’t know how long it takes to recover from it. All I know is that I can’t call for help even if I try; I can’t speak, I can’t see, and for the most part, I can’t move. After awhile, I slowly regain my senses, but I feel nauseated. I can see, although everything is still glittery. I can utter a few comprehensible words. I can stand up without falling down.

After a few hours, the confusion subsides. The nausea dissipates.

And then it’s over.
For years, I didn’t recognize these as migraine symptoms.

The first time it happened, I thought it was an allergic reaction to something. The second time, I thought it was a stroke, but when I regained use of my limbs a few hours later, I ruled it out. My doctor didn’t know what to say, and asked if I had recently started taking any new medications, thinking that it could have been a side effect. Nonetheless, I went for a full neurological workup and everything appeared normal.

Migraines never crossed my mind — most of the time, I didn’t get a headache alongside these episodes. And when I did get severe headaches, they were usually unaccompanied by other symptoms. I did notice, though, that my regular headaches would last up to 24 hours.

So my doctor brushed off the stroke-like symptoms, but said the headaches were probably migraines, since they were so severe. I was prescribed Maxalt (which didn’t work), and later, Imitrex (which also didn’t work).

But migraines, as I would come to learn, aren’t headaches — headaches can be a symptom of a migraine attack, but migraines themselves aren’t headaches.

It turns out that my headaches weren’t migraines at all; they were just really, really bad headaches. But the neurological symptoms that had been brushed aside?

Those were migraines.

Women suffer from migraines more often than men do, and researchers say that hormones may be the culprit. Estrogen may make women more sensitive to migraine triggers. For this reason, oral contraceptives containing estrogen (i.e. most of them) are contraindicated for women who experience migraine with aura. There is plenty of evidence to back this up.

Migraine symptoms can mimic those of transient ischemic attacks, or “mini strokes”, which some studies suggest could foreshadow a “real” stroke. And alarmingly, women who experience migraine with aura might be at an increased risk as well; blood vessels temporarily narrow during a migraine attack, which can cause blood clots to form, making migraine sufferers more susceptible to full-blown strokes.
Maybe it isn’t “just a headache”.

Author's Bio: 

Huddleston Approach April 14th of 1998 was my awakening moment. I experienced a quantum shift in paradigms. I went from disbelieving to believing. The power of believing has had a tremendous impact on my life. I feel that I am empowered to share all that I have learned with the world.