I had an appointment with my doctor yesterday and I decided to tell her about the visual symptoms I’ve been experiencing that I’ve just assumed are due to migraines. She asked a bunch of questions and I answered as best I could while feeling super wonky and out of it. This lead to the diagnosis that I suspected: Ocular Migraines.
Ocular migraines are migraines that have a lot of crazy visual symptoms but no, or minimal, headache pain. Other names for ocular migraines are ophthalmic migraines, retinal migraines, eye migraines and silent migraines. My brother was diagnosed with them a few years ago and my mom has had them too.
Although I don’t need any more medical conditions, already having PCOS, fibromyalgia, adrenal fatigue and Morphea (an autoimmune condition where the immune system attacks the skin, leaving spots that look like bruises), I was relieved to get this diagnosis, especially when I got home and read about all the symptoms of migraines. The last couple of months, I’ve been kind of worried that I’m becoming bipolar or have a brain tumor or something. Thankfully, all my crazy ups, downs, hyperactivity and general wonkiness can be explained by the four stages of migraine, the prodrome, aura, headache and postdrome. Although I’ve had migraines off and on for twenty five years, I’d never heard of the prodrome and postdrome stages before!
Prodrome symptoms can be experienced hours or even days before a migraine attack and can include: concentrations problems, depression, difficulty reading, difficulty speaking, diarrhea, fatigue, food cravings, hyperactivity or hypoactivity, increased thirst, increased urination, nausea, light sensitivity, sound sensitivity, repetitive yawning, sleep issues, stiff neck and irritability.
Some of those symptoms really explain my week! I’ve been unable to concentrate, depressed, craving junk food, irritable and sensitive to light and extremely sensitive to sound. It’s like I suddenly have bionic hearing because things that I usually don’t even notice are suddenly deafening, like the sound of my computer humming and the neighbors bouncing their basketball in the cul-de-sac.
After the prodrome, come the aura symptoms which, for me, are the most debilitating: They can include visual symptoms like flashing lights, wavy lines and spots, blurry vision, flashes of light that streak across the visual field and monocular blindness (total blindness in one eye – I had this once. It was terrifying!). Non-visual symptoms can include allodynia (hypersensitivity to touch and feel), aphasia, auditory hallucinations, confusion, decrease in or loss of hearing, dizziness, hemiplegia or motor weakness, hiccups, neck pain, olfactory hallucinations, paresthesia, partial paralysis and reduced sensation.
The headache phase can include much more than headache. Some of the fun symptoms are: increased sensitivity to light, sound and odors, neck pain, nausea and vomiting, diarrhea or constipation, nasal congestion and/or runny nose, depression, severe anxiety, hot flashes, chills, dizziness, vertigo, confusion and dehydration or fluid retention.
I think I was definitely in the headache phase in the waiting room at the doctor’s office because being surrounded by people who all constantly moved, talked and made noise nearly drove me out of my mind. I’m not good at being in an enclosed space with people anyway but yesterday was really, really bad because of my increased sensitivity to sound and odor. I’m always bothered by the stench of fabric softener and perfume but the person standing in line in front of me smelled like old food and the whole place just smelled stale. I found myself trying not to breathe, which I’m sure didn’t help with my growing anxiety.
What I still have to look forward to is the postdrome phase. It can last hours to days and is shown to be accompanied or possibly caused by abnormal cerebral flow. That’s not disturbing or anything! Symptoms of postdrome include depression or, alternately, feelings of euphoria, fatigue, poor concentration and comprehension and, get this, lowered intellect levels. I’ve always said my migraines cause brain damage!
The worst thing is, I rarely get just one migraine so I’ll probably go through all these phases a few more times before getting to the postdrome. And the migraines are happening with my hormonal cycles so I’m having at least two clusters of them per month. Fun times!
Oh well, at least there’s a neurological reason rather than a psychiatric reason why I said, “good morning, Darling,” to the flower pot on my front porch!
My doctor prescribed Sumatriptan, which can help prevent migraines, if taken soon enough. The problem I see with this is that the symptoms can be subtle and some of them are symptoms I also experience from fibromyalgia flares. Maybe if I track my migraine symptoms for a month or two I’ll be better able to predict when an attack is coming on. Right now my eyes and the back of my neck hurt. Do I already have a migraine or am I getting one? And how am I supposed to figure this out with my confusion and lowered intellect?
*I lifted the information on the four stages of migraine from achenet.org.