Thursday, September 20, 2018

Book 147: Migraine

"But we now encounter a much more fundamental problem, which springs from the fact that migraine cannot be considered simply as an event in the nervous system which occurs spontaneously and without reason: the attack cannot be considered apart from its causes and effects. A physiological statement cannot enlighten us concerning the causes of migraine, or its importance as a reaction or item of behavior. Thus a logical confusion is implicit in the very formulation of such a question as: What is the cause of migraine? For we require not one explanation or one type of explanation, but several types, each in its own logical province. We have to ask two questions: why migraine takes the form(s) that it does, and why it occurs when it does."

Dates read: May 20-26, 2017

Rating: 6/10

I first started getting migraines when I was about 18. I'd gone on the Pill, and suddenly found myself getting these awful headaches. For a couple years, I didn't make the connection, and just thought they were especially bad normal headaches. But when I was driving home from a shift at Blockbuster and literally had to pull off to the side of the road and barf, I finally went to see my doctor. When I told her about the excruciating pain on one side of my head that I got periodically, she diagnosed me with migraines and gave me Imitrex and the first time I took one, it was like magic. Within about an hour, the pain just...stopped. I could go about my life like a normal person. It was like a miracle.

It took me a few more years to figure out that the headaches were tied to my menstrual cycle and there's a whole series of nonsense that's connected to that, but that's not the important part. The important part is that as both a migraine sufferer and a devoted fangirl of Oliver Sacks, I was of course going to pick up his book Migraine. It's a quasi-scientific text, but I think it's still accessible to a popular audience. It just needs be an informed popular audience, or at least one willing to get their Google on when he starts talking about neurotransmitters.

Sacks takes a comprehensive look at migraines, beginning with setting them into historical context (they've been around at least as long as recorded history) and then describing the two basic types of migraines: with aura ("classical migraine") and without aura ("common migraine"). He goes into detail about the symptoms of the two, beginning with the common migraine, which is distinguished primarily by an intense, usually one-sided headache and some degree of nausea, and then proceeding to classical migraine, which is similar but also very different. The classical migraine has a visual component known as the "aura", which often takes the form of  bright colors or patterns clouding the visual field. He then discusses possible causes, triggers, and treatment options.

In my experience (which is admittedly as a person with a psychology degree), Oliver Sacks' writing style, which bursts with curiosity and enthusiasm, tends to override concerns about technicality. That being said, of the many books I've read of his, this the most textbook-like. Assuming that the primary audience to which this book will appeal will be migraine-sufferers who already have some background information about their condition, I think it's fine. Even as a fairly savvy consumer, I learned things about migraines that I didn't know before. Since I'm the type of person who doesn't have aura, I was surprised to learn that it's actually fairly common for people who do get aura to get just the aura, without any headache component. Migraine sufferers will also be able to see how many of their symptoms are more common than they thought. I also found myself very grateful that my migraines debuted after the use of triptan drugs to treat migraines became standard, since I know my Imitrex is a lifesaver and previous drugs sound like they were generally less effective with more side effects. I'd definitely recommend this book to people curious about migraines, since I think it distills a lot of research and thought into one volume. Unless you're otherwise interested or a Sacks completist, though, it's probably not worth your time.

Tell me, blog many of you also suffer from migraines?

One year ago, I was reading: Stay With Me

Two years ago, I was reading: The Professor and the Madman

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