Thursday 19 September 2019

'It’s crippling: I have to be separated from my kids' - mum opens up about migraine attacks

Mum-of-three Ciara O’Rourke tells Kirsty Blake Knox how the headache disorder impacts her life and how people’s misconceptions add to the pain

Kirsty Blake Knox

Kirsty Blake Knox

A mum-of-three has spoken about the crippling impact chronic migraine attacks have had on her life.

Nurse Ciara O’Rourke (40), who works in Beaumont Hospital and lives in Clonee, Co Meath, first started experiencing migraines when she was in her mid-twenties.

“For almost half of my life I have been suffering from migraines,” she said. “At first it was episodic. It would happen two or three times a month depending on my menstrual cycle.

“But it has progressed over the years and now I have 20 to 25 headaches a month and three to four chronic migraine attacks a month.”

The migraine attacks can last up to three days, and Ciara is often left bed-bound as a result.

“It is crippling. I have a severe throbbing headache, coupled with nausea and vomiting, loss of appetite, and sensitivity to light and noise.”

Ciara is mum to three boys; Cillian (7), Cormac (4), and Cathal (3).

Suffering from such pronounced migraines is extremely challenging when raising a young family. Especially as it forces Ciara to spend extended periods of time away from her sons.

Soundproofing your home will reduce noise from neighbours
Soundproofing your home will reduce noise from neighbours

“I am very lucky as my husband Sean takes the lions’ share of responsibilities when I am having the attacks. But it is very difficult because I need to be separated from them. You feel a huge sense of guilt because I am missing out on important milestones in their lives because I have to stay in a dark room.”

Around 700,000 people in Ireland suffer from migraines.

READ MORE: Are migraines holding back your career and your life?

Despite this, there are many common misconceptions about the ailment.

Many people consider migraines as nothing more than a ‘bad headache’. Something that can be can be easily forgotten about with a few painkillers and can-do attitude.

Two in three migraine sufferers said people assuming they are over-reacting to a headache is the most common form of stigma they encounter.

But migraines can be incapacitating.

“As a busy working mother, migraine, when it strikes, it really impacts on my home and professional life,” Ciara said.

“I’m not able to drive, or lift my head properly. I have to call my husband to collect me from work. It’s not a bad headache. It can feel quite lonely when people don’t understand that, and are just judging you. “

Migraines occur for a variety of reasons but often relate to hormonal changes in the body. Women are also more likely to suffer from migraines than men.

Ciara’s migraines correspond with her menstrual cycle but disappeared completely during all three of her pregnancies.

“I had no migraines when I was pregnant or breastfeeding — so I always say I got over three years migraine-free. I think that’s why I was begging my husband for more kids,” she joked. “But then after my third child, the migraines came back with greater intensity.”

READ MORE: Dear Dr Nina: I suffer terribly with migraines and I’ve noticed they’ve become worse since I started the menopause. What’s going on?

External factors can trigger migraines; these can include stress, tiredness, and hunger.

Doctors recommend keeping stashes of food with you, and avoiding stressful situation to avoid sudden migraine attacks.

It is also imperative that migraine sufferers seek professional help from a GP and a neurologist. “Only with a diagnosis can you live with migraines,” Ciara said.  “I think I will always have migraines but ending the stigma and judgement would make a huge impact.”

Clodagh Kevans, director of Teva Pharmaceuticals, said migraine is a debilitating condition. “Our campaign aims to create a better awareness of the condition and encourage those with migraine to seek professional support,” she said. “Diagnosis and treatments are improving.”

The world’s leading organisation of headache experts, The International Headache Society, will meet in Dublin from tomorrow until Sunday to discuss awareness and treatment options

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