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Helping Others Understand Your Migraine

When you have a migraine, you may get mixed reactions from family and friends. Some may be worried; others may get frustrated. You and your loved ones will benefit if they understand your condition and how best to help, advises the American Council for Headache Education (ACHE). Talk about the headaches and the problems they cause.

The first step is to make sure you are getting appropriate treatment for your migraines. Medication is available to help ease the pain of a migraine. If medication doesn't provide relief, discuss the problem with your health care provider and share your concerns with family and friends.

Communication counts

You may avoid talking about your migraines out of fear of being labeled a complainer. Or you may be reluctant to burden your family by sharing your pain. Keep in mind that miscommunication leads to misunderstanding, which in turn can lead to stress, a common trigger for a migraine, ACHE says.

Try discussing your migraines when you’re not in pain. Tell loved ones what symptoms signal an impending headache (an aura, for example); what happens during your headache (you may be sensitive to light or sounds, or feel nauseated); what you need to help you cope while you have a headache (you may need to lie in a dark room, for instance); what medications you take to help prevent headaches; how long a headache lasts; and how frequently you have a headache. Let them know how they can help—even if it’s just by leaving you alone to rest. Share information from your doctor or articles you have read about migraines so that they can understand the seriousness of your condition.

Encourage your partner, children, and friends to express their worries and ask questions. Children may be afraid that you are going to die of your migraines or that they somehow cause them. Friends and partners may feel neglected, overwhelmed, and unsure how to help. Communicating these fears can help everyone handle your migraines better.

Set rules for these conversations. Avoid language that blames or punishes, and take a break if tempers flare.

Take a team approach

Devise a migraine action plan that your family can be a part of, ACHE says. For example, list household duties that you need help with when you’re dealing with a headache and assign a person to do each. Let your family know that certain signals, such as lying in bed with the shades drawn, mean that you can’t come down for dinner or even talk, and that they should make plans without you.

When you have a migraine, you can feel quite debilitated. But when you’re feeling good, though, you’re probably quite productive. If friends or family are overly helpful or offer unsolicited advice, tell them that you’ve got a treatment plan worked out with your health care provider. It’s good to have help, but when people do too much, it can make you feel less capable.

Most important, be flexible and positive. Migraines may sideline you from time to time, but be sure to schedule a full social and family life for the times you are headache-free.