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12 Things Migraines Hurt Besides Your Head

Migraines are not just headaches, they are "life aches."

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Your social life

Turning down fun plans with “no thanks, I have a headache” can feel like the ultimate cop-out but for migraine sufferers it’s a harsh reality of living with their condition. According to a Migraine in America 2016 survey of nearly 4,000 people, two-thirds of sufferers reported migraines that lasted five days or more and the same amount said they worried about disappointing others because of their pain. Half said they were embarrassed about their condition and would try to hide their migraines from friends and family. Try these 10 proven migraine remedies.

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Your legs

Talk about adding insult to injury: One in six sufferers in the survey reported also getting restless leg syndrome during a migraine attack. RLS is a neurological condition characterized by a nearly irresistible urge to move your legs and most often occurs when you’re trying to fall asleep, according to the National Institutes of Health. It may also cause your legs to feel like they’re throbbing, creeping, or prickling. So just in case your migraine wasn’t enough to keep you awake, now your legs are rebelling too. Don’t miss these reasons why you have a migraine.

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Your love life

Nearly 90 percent of sufferers said their migraines hurt their relationship with their partner. Migraines can cause an increased burden on caregivers—a fact which migraine sufferers know all to well and often feel terrible about—and they can cause the sufferer to withdraw from physical and emotional contact, as even those types of loving stimuli may worsen the pain. (Nearly 70 percent reported that perfume or cologne could trigger a migraine, for example.) This is doubly unfortunate as feeling loved and having sex can help mitigate the pain; one study found that a third of migraine sufferers experienced relief from their symptoms during sex. Watch out for these 6 sneaky warning signs of a migraine and how to stop them!

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Your mental health

You know what’s depressing? Pain. You know what’s really depressing? Chronic pain. Migraines and depression create a vicious cycle where the head pain can make the patient depressed and then the depression can exacerbate the pain, according to research published in Neurology Times. Anxiety is also related to migraines, with sufferers reporting that they worried constantly about when another migraine might occur—a particularly poignant problem as the research also found that stress from anxiety is a major trigger of migraines. 

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Your heart

Having migraines increases the risk of having or dying from a heart attack, stroke, or heart disease by 50 percent, according to a major new study published in BMJ.  Researchers aren’t exactly sure the reason behind the link between heart problems and migraines but they noted it’s worse for women and for people who experience migraine with aura. Here are the 3 common things you thought triggered migraines, but actually don’t.

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Your sleep

It’s the ultimate catch-22: Sleep is one of the best things to help with migraines but migraine-level pain can make it nearly impossible to get that healing shut-eye. Even worse, 66 percent of respondents in the survey said that lack of sleep could bring on a migraine. Insomnia and migraines are so inextricably linked that curing one condition often leads to significant relief in the other, according to a study published in the journal of the American Headache Society.

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Your self-esteem

Nearly 70 percent of sufferers said that there is an intense stigma against migraines. They said they often have a hard time getting people to believe the severity of their symptoms, reporting that many friends and family wonder why they are so incapacitated by “just a headache.” Others said their friends saw it as just a convenient excuse to miss work, school or other engagements. One respondent explained that because she internalized everyone else’s doubt about her condition it took three years of therapy before she felt like she could trust her own assessment of her pain. Make sure you’re aware of these 8 different types of migraines.

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Your hobbies

Most people are excited by a little change in the weather—signs of spring mean flowers, falling leaves mean apple picking—but it’s not so for migraine sufferers. Eighty-one percent said that even a slight shift in barometric pressure brought on by changing weather could trigger severe head pain.

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Your muscles

Muscle weakness was a primary complaint of 16 percent of migraine sufferers in the survey. Many sufferers reported that their migraines made them hurt from head to toe, saying they experienced body aches and sore or tight muscles as a result. In addition, many sufferers reported that their head pain makes harder to exercise, either preventing them from getting to the gym or by being a trigger for more migraines, leading to muscles that are literally weakening. These are the 13 things you never knew caused headaches.

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Your daily routine

Fully 91 percent of respondents said they altered their daily lives to try and avoid things that they suspected would cause a migraine. For some this meant skipping the gym, for others it meant avoiding a glass of celebratory wine or taking a pass on movie night. Weather, bright lights, certain smells, sleep problems, and stress were the most commonly reported triggers. Steer clear of these foods that can cause headaches.

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Your career

“I have a migraine” is the number one reason people give when calling in sick to work and the resulting sick leave costs the economy millions of dollars in lost work hours every year, according to a survey done by the Migraine Action Association. And it’s a legitimate problem: In the Migraine American survey, one out of four sufferers said they had to stop working, took medical leave, or reduced their work hours due to their head pain. Eighty-seven percent said their migraines interfered with their schooling or job training.

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Your finances

Migraine treatments are varied, often a patchwork of medication and lifestyle modifications, but they have one thing in common: They aren’t cheap. Ninety percent of sufferers said they had to see a doctor and 50 percent said they had to go the emergency room, at least once in the past year for their migraines. In addition to co-pays they also pay for expensive prescription and over-the-counter drugs to prevent and manage their symptoms. Next, try starting a few of these 32 everyday habits that will reduce your risk of getting headaches.

Originally Published in Reader's Digest

Charlotte Hilton Andersen
Charlotte Hilton Andersen has been covering health and fitness for many major outlets, both in print and online, for 13 years. She's the author of two books, co-host of the Self Help Obsession podcast, and does freelance editing and ghostwriting. She teaches fitness classes in her spare time. She lives in Denver with her husband, four children, and three pets.