Health Secondary Story

Sue Ann Says Build Compassion with Migraine Awareness

Your best friend calls you up and asks you to join her at the new restaurant for lunch to catch up and relax. But just as you sit down to eat your friend feels severe pulsing pain on the left side of her head. She also feels nauseous. What’s happening? Your friend is having a migraine. Yes, a migraine is a real “thing” and affects many women. In fact, the Migraine Research Foundation reports that “Migraine affects about 28 million women in the U.S.” A migraine sufferer could have several migraines a month leading to high rates of absenteeism at their work place, and loss of social time with relatives and friends. Despite research and new medical advances we still do not have a cure for incapacitating migraines. Let me share with you some migraine information and how we can help our friends with migraines.

The Economic and Social Costs of Migraines

  • A World Health Report in 2001 stated that migraine is among the top twenty causes of disability in the world. It is often under-treated and under-diagnosed.
  • Fifty-0ne percent of women lose up to 6 or more days of work each year to migraine.
  • Estimated costs of both healthcare and lost productivity costs of migraine are as high as $36 billion annually in the U.S.

Understand the Symptoms

Migraine symptoms can include one or several of these symptoms at the same time.

  • Pain: Pulsing, throbbing pain on one or both sides of the head. The pain can be debilitating.
  • Aura: An aura may include visual disturbances such as flashes of light or bright spots. Vision loss can occur. Some women may have touching sensations or speech problems during this event which could last up to 60 minutes.
  • Nausea: The feeling of nausea builds and some sufferers do vomit.
  • Sensitivity: Migraine can cause sensitivity to sound, light and odor in the room.
  • Fainting
  • Fatigue
  • Dizziness


There is no known cause of migraines but a migraine can be triggered by stress at work or home, hormonal changes, loud noises and even foods containing monosodium glutamate. Foods that have been reported as triggers include caffeine, aspartame, chocolate, nuts, nitrates/nitrites (in bacon and processed meats) and yellow dye #6. Poor sleep habits, not eating regular meals and environmental changes are common triggers. Your friend may have a greater risk of having migraines if she has a family history of migraine, but genetic links are still being researched. Other risks for migraines include depression, anxiety, asthma or epilepsy.

Treatments and Prevention

There are various prescriptions that can help alleviate the pain from a migraine. Over the counter medicine is one type that may help your friend. Physicians may recommend changes in diet or exercise to manage triggers.

How to Help a Friend

Become knowledgeable on the symptoms and recognize when your friend is having a migraine. See if your friend needs water, pain medicine or wants to sit in a cool, dark room. If your friend needs to lie down, see if you can find an area where she can rest. Help turn off other stimuli from the area like loud music or a TV.

Breathing exercises can be both a treatment when your friend is in pain, or a preventative step to reduce stress during a frantic day. If your friend has pain and is breathing quickly, rhythmic breathing can help slow her breath down. You could help her count as she inhales and exhales. If your friend is at home, take over care of the children. Prepare a meal that she can eat later in the day. Help with household chores and even walk the dog.

Don’t be the friend who says, “Oh come on, it’s just a headache.” Don’t be the boss that blurts out, “You sure don’t look sick, get back to work!” Don’t be the friend that insists that “It’s all in your head.” Migraine sufferers need your support.

Help at Work

If your friend is at the workplace, help by taking over some of her duties when possible. As a boss of an employee who suffers migraines, recognize that your employee does have a “real” condition and be flexible with the work load. Acknowledge that women have migraines and provide a room in the building where one could lay down until the symptoms have passed. Don’t penalize her if she needs to see her doctor. Treat an employee with migraines as you would treat any other employee who has a recurring illness.

Awareness Can Help Fight the Pain

Encourage your friend to seek out her physician’s advice on how to reduce these excruciating headaches. Let her know you are there for her and are willing to help at work or home when she is in pain. A true friend doesn’t run when there are health challenges, but steps up to help other women have a healthy life. Be that friend!

Because it all begins with a healthy woman…

Sue Ann Thompson is founder and president of the Wisconsin Women’s Health Foundation (WWHF), a statewide non-profit organization whose mission is to help Wisconsin women and their families reach their healthiest potential. WWHF provides programs and conducts forums that focus on education, prevention, and early detection; connects individuals to health resources; produces and distributes the most up-to-date health education and resource materials; and, awards grants and scholarships to women health researchers and related community non-profits. To learn more, visit or call 1-800-448-5148.

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