The devastating effects of chronic migraines are receiving new attention recently after a tragic apparent triple-murder homicide near Chilliwack last week.
Emily Janzen is believed to have been killed by her father, Randy, along with her mother and aunt, because she suffered from debilitating migraines. In a Facebook post, Janzen’s father wrote that he killed his daughter to stop her pain.
She has been depicted as a young woman experiencing frequent, crippling headaches that interfered with her school and family life. She was a talented musician who turned down a spot in UBC’s esteemed opera program due to the severity of her condition.
A disabling condition
Dr. Gordon Mackie is a neurologist who specializes in migraines and head ache pain. He says that migraine headaches are experienced by 20 to 30% of women and 10% of men, while chronic migraines like the ones suffered by Janzen only affect about 2% of the population.
Migraine headaches are characterized by throbbing head pain, nausea and sensitivity to light, sound and motion. Sufferers are often confined to bed for the duration of the episode.
“Without question it’s disabling. It keeps you from working, it keeps you from functioning normally in your home and your work life.”
Consistent physician care helps
Dr. Mackie says consistent medical care is key to effectively managing chronic migraines. Family care physicians and specialists are better equipped to help patients establish long-term goals for improving their conditions. In emergency room settings, both patients and physicians can become frustrated by a lack of consistency and difficulty in tracking patient history. He says people who experience frequent migraines can keep a diary, chronicling the frequency and character of their headaches, as well as what medications work and how they were administered.
“Everyone has their own pattern of symptoms that needs to be understood, and their own pattern of triggers that needs to be understood and dealt with. Getting a good plan and strategy is important. Without having that kind of option available, it’s frightening and disabling, not only the discomfort but the anticipation.”
The unpredictability and severity of migraines can affect the families of sufferers as well. Feelings of helplessness are common when family members are unable to help their relatives relieve their pain. Emily’s mother, Laurel tweeted “Watching someone I love in unbearable pain everyday for 18 months and I feel helpless. #weneedhelp. ”
“There are always good strategies for making things better”
Mackie says that, while progress in controlling migraines can be a trial and error process, “there are strategies and appropriate management methods.”
There are also resources available outside of a doctor’s office or the emergency room. Mackie recommends migrainecanada.org to those looking for tips on how to manage, anticipate and cope with migraines.