Migraine awareness week!

It’s migraine awareness week, and as a sufferer of migraines on an almost-daily basis, I should probably write something about it. Except, ironically, I’m way too ill to write much at the moment, and right now I have a migraine. (Before you butt in with “oh, if you really had a migraine you wouldn’t be on your laptop”, I live in severe pain every minute of every day, and eventually you have to just do things despite it, or you die. So yeah, it’s a milder-than-it-could-be migraine, and using my laptop on a low light setting will make it much worse than it currently is, but that’s my life.)

So, migraines suck.

Apparently 1 in 7 people get them, and they are really disabling. They stop you being able to work or think or do much at all really, except lie in the dark and quiet, and occasionally make them worse by using your laptop on a low-light setting to talk about them. Also, they are way more than a headache, it’s all stuff nobody understands but it’s to do with blood flow to the brain. They can involve lovely things like visual and audio disturbances, and puking; probably other stuff too. They can also occur without headaches at all, which makes them tricky to spot. They can exhaust the body so much that some sufferers end up… well, as ill as me. Even if you don’t end up that ill long-term from them, while they’re happening they’re pretty awful.

Obviously, migraines are an invisible illness, and sufferers generally don’t look like they suffer from anything at all, except when they are throwing things at you because you’re playing loud music and it’s making them feel like their skull is actually cracking in half. If someone really has a migraine, don’t dismiss it as “just a headache” (and similarly, if you have just a headache, don’t go round calling it a migraine) – they can be seriously debilitating things, and if you’re lucky enough to never have had one, be thankful, not skeptical!

I apologise for the lack of eloquence. Pretty wiped right now. Here are some slightly more coherent links about migraines:
http://www.migrainetrust.org/migraine-awareness-week
http://www.migraine.org.uk/index.php?sectionid=40

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Idle thought

In heaven, I will be able to run again. Not the stumbly, achey, 8-metres-on-a-good-day shuffle I’m accustomed to – I’ll be able to run. I’ll be able to run as far as I want, outside, through all the perfect and beautiful things God made, and my legs won’t hurt and I won’t collapse after two steps and I won’t stop until I’m laughing too much to keep running. And then, when I do stop, I’ll be able to start again.

There’s a lot of better things to look forward to than that, I know. But right now, that’s what I miss.

Zurich studies suggest muscle fatigue signals, like disordered pain signals, start in brain

Us ME/CFS sufferers love good science. Not the decide-the-results-beforehand type of science that seems to pervade the world of ME research in the west; no, we like the kind of real work-out-what’s-happening science that actually investigates what’s going on! We appreciate real science. Unfortunately, due to the rapid deteriation of our brains (like glasses in a coffee-shop in January, they fog up pretty fast), it’s hard to read scientific articles and take in what they are saying. So, as an aid to myself as much as anyone else, I want to `translate’ some papers/medical articles etc. into a semi-readable form. Here goes!

This is a less confusing version of http://www.prohealth.com/library/showarticle.cfm?libid=16687: Zurich studies suggest muscle fatigue signals, like disordered pain signals, start in brain

So: They break down the ability to use your muscles into 3 areas: how much you want to use them, how tired they actually are, and how tired your brain thinks they are. In the past they have just been looking at the actual fatigue of the muscle, and not what the brain thinks is going on – but this study looks at what the brain thinks is going on instead.

First study:
In order for your brain to control your muscles, it needs to send signals to them and also receive signals from them, so it knows what is going on. The first study they did showed that when your muscles get physically tired, they send signals to your brain to tell it this. These signals are telling your brain that it shouldn’t be doing so much work. They then anaethitised the spinal cord (ie: put it to sleep/massive painkillers), and found that this interrupted some of the signals; so your brain doesn’t realise how tired your muslces are getting when it’s under the effect of a strong pain-killer.

Second study:
They used super-fancy equipment to take photos of the brain (basically an MRI which shows what parts of the brain are active). They took the images of the brain when the body had been doing enough strenuous exercise that the brain was about to tell it to stop. The active areas at that point should be the parts that are going to tell it to stop. It turns out that these parts are quite `basic’ ones which analyse threatening situations.

Third study:
They looked at how much communication was going on between these parts of the brain to work out what parts control what’s going on. They discovered that one part (‘insular cortex’) gets a lot more active the more fatigue messages are sent from the muscles to the brain. It gets active by communicating with the part of the brain which controls movement of the muscles. So, this shows that the insular cortex is controlling (to some extent) whether the brain thinks you are too fatigued or not.

Overall results:
The brain has a huge influence on muscle fatigue, in that it has to deal with the signals coming from the muscles and whether the muscles are too fatigued to do more work. This will hopefully help them to discover two things: 1) new ways to improve performance of muscles and 2) why muscles are perceived to be so fatigued with certain illnesses, when they can’t find much physical reason for it.