What is a migraine? Why migraine happens. Who gets migraines? Treating migraines.

Living with Migraines

At first, Carla Larson* thought she was losing her sight, "I had a visual disturbance; what they call a scintillating scotoma. It was so scary I immediately went to see my doctor. He looked into my eyes with a light for a long time, and I guess he thought he saw something bad, because he sent me to the emergency room."

So started Carla's long journey to discover what in the world might be wrong with her eyes. "They did a whole bunch of tests, ruled out detached retinas, but in the end, they shrugged and sent me home."

Carla wasn't about to let this go unsolved, because her mother suffers from multiple sclerosis (MS) and she knew that sometimes visual disturbances can be the first sign of MS. "I went from doctor to doctor and had many more tests, until MS and other illnesses were ruled out. Finally, a neurologist said to me, 'You have migraines.' I said, "Migraines? But, I don't have a headache!"

Give up Chocolate?!?

"This neurologist finally convinced me that I was having painless migraines and worked with me to make some lifestyle changes. That wasn't fun, because a lot of my triggers were food, and I'm a foodie. Giving up chocolate was pure torture, for instance, but I had to make a choice: My vision, or satiating my palate. I chose my vision."

"I've learned a lot about my condition, including the fact that my scotomas only last 45 minutes or so. If I just lie down and rest, they pass more easily. Part of the severity of my migraine symptoms has to do with how I view them. When I didn't know what was wrong with me, and imagined all kinds of dire diseases, my symptoms brought all that fear of the unknown down to me and made me feel much worse. Just being able to call my condition 'migraines' helps a tremendous amount. My symptoms are just phenomena, now, and not an occasion for panic."

Other Changes

"I'm a marathon runner, but I had to give it up, the training and the marathons. It got to be a pattern: I'd train, and the next morning, I'd wake up with visual disturbances and nausea. It's hard to describe, but it was pretty debilitating. I couldn't work, or take care of my kids. Something had to go."

"I gave up marathons, but I'm a person who needs to be active. I found a wonderful way to get my body moving without bringing on symptoms. I do Tai Chi. It's smooth and gentle and totally awesome. So, in retrospect, giving up marathons wasn't the worst thing to happen. Actually, that would be giving up chocolate," says Carla with a mirthful smile.

*Not her real name