Migraines Become a Headache for Presidential Hopeful Michele Bachmann

As if GOP Presidential candidate Congresswoman Michele Bachmann doesn’t have enough controversy around her, Bachmann is now having to answer questions about her health. Yesterday, she acknowledged that she suffers from chronic migraine attacks. Although the condition is not life-threatening, some have questioned whether the headaches, which have been described as occasionally being “incapacitating” would interfere with her duties as president. Bachmann denied that the headaches would interfere with ability to work or to act as president:

However, according to The Daily Caller former staffers of the Congresswoman report that she:

“frequently suffers from stress-induced medical episodes that she has characterized as severe headaches. These episodes, say witnesses, occur once a week on average and can “incapacitate” her for days at time. On at least three occasions, Bachmann has landed in the hospital as a result.”

What is a Migraine Headache?

A migraine headache is a severe headache, usually described as throbbing, or pulsing. It most commonly occurs on one side of the head, and is felt to be coming from behind the eye, temple or ear. It can last anywhere from four to seventy-two hours, and interferes with daily activity. It is frequently associated with nausea and vomiting, and sensitivity to light and sound.

About one in five migraine sufferers have what has been called classic migraine (now called migraine with aura). These patients can tell that their headache is coming by experiencing an aura 10 to 30 minutes before the onset of the headache. An aura is an unusual sensory perception which can be visual, olfactory or non-visual. Visual auras are most common and are described as seeing wavy or zigzag lines or flashing lights. Non-visual auras include motor weakness, speech or language abnormalities, dizziness, vertigo, and tingling or numbness of the face, tongue, or extremities.
Migraines affect 30 million people in the US, beginning at age 10 and decreasing after age 50.

It used to be thought that migraines were caused by dilation (opening) of blood vessels in the head, but more recent research shows that migraines may be related to genes that control the activity of some brain cells. Even though the cause be not be known, certain things have been found to trigger migraine headaches. These include stress, hormonal changes, certain foods (alcohol, caffeine, cheese, chocolate), sleep deprivation, and sensory stimuli such as bright lights or sun glare.

Treatment is either symptomatic- over the counter pain relievers or prescription medications such as Imitrex, designed to stop an migraine in progress, or preventive- avoidance of known triggers, and certain medications (beta blockers, antidepressives, anti-seizure medications) taken on a daily basis to prevent migraines from starting.

What is the difference between a migraine and a tension headache?

If these headaches are as “debilitating” as described, should this be something that would eliminate Bachmann as a presidential candidate? What do you think?

Michele R. Berman, M.D. was Clinical Director of The Pediatric Center, a private practice on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. from 1988-2000, and was named Outstanding Washington Physician by Washingtonian Magazine in 1999. She was a medical internet pioneer having established one of the first medical practice websites in 1997. Dr. Berman also authored a monthly column for Washington Parent Magazine.

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