Migraines are not like other headaches, just ask someone who has had one. Comparing a migraine to a headache is like comparing a toy train to the super-train in Japan, there really isn’t any comparison. A migraine can be completely debilitating and so intense that sufferers will do almost anything to relieve the pain. Sufferers of migraines have done everything from banging their heads against walls, taking large doses of medications, essential oils, diet changes, activity changes, etc. The lists of things a migraine sufferer will do to stop or decrease the pain can be as lengthy as a child’s Christmas wish list. However, very few treatments really work to reduce the pain, and very little is actually known about the causes and treatment of migraines.
Migraines actually have several phases, up to four in many people, and can last from hours to days. They can cause pain so severe that it can render a person completely incapacitated. Some people have warning signs prior to a migraine.
- Prodome: The first phase can start several days before the actual headache starts. These symptoms include mood changes; constipation; food cravings; frequent yawning; increased thirst and urination; and/or neck stiffness.
- Aura: The second phase of the migraine can include; flashes of light; bind spots or other visual disturbances; tingling of one side of the face, arm, or leg; hearing music or noises; touching sensations such as sensory, motor, or verbal disturbances; weakness of muscles or feeling as if someone is touching you; and/or a specific type of headache that precedes the actual migraine.
- Migraine: The third phase is the actual migraine itself and has specific symptoms that other headaches do not have. A migraine can last upwards of 72 hours and can have such symptoms as; pain on only one side of their head; throbbing or pulsing pain; nausea and/or vomiting; sensitivity to light, sound, smells; blurred vision; and/or lightheadedness or fainting spells.
- Post-drome: The fourth phase is the last phase of a migraine and the sufferer can experience such symptoms as; feeling drained and washed out or elated; confusion; moodiness; dizziness and/or continued sensitivity to light and/or sound.
Service Connection of Migraines
Migraines are one of the more prevalent claimed disabilities among Veterans. It is currently ranked 8th in most prevalent disabilities in new compensation claims. Studies suggest that approximately 36% of those returning from Iraq experience migraine type headaches. Another study showed that of those suffering from migraine type symptoms, about 22% showed symptoms of anxiety, 50% showed symptoms of depression, and almost 40% had symptoms of PTSD. The exact causes of migraines remain unknown, but there are links. Traumatic brain injuries such as exposure to explosives, extremely loud noises, and actual head injuries are leading factors in migraines. However, there are now links to exposures to chemicals such as burn pits and chemical solvents. There may also be secondary links such as the neck, eye, or back injuries, fibromyalgia, and mental health issues. There can also be other secondary issues from the migraines such as sleep disorders, chronic mental health issues such as depression. Detailed information on how migraines are rated can be found here.
Filing a VA Claim for Migraines
A Veteran first must have a diagnosis of migraines in order to file for disability compensation. Second, it must be determined if the migraines are the primary disability (caused by an in-service injury or event) or if they are secondary to another injury or illness. If they are a primary disability, you can claim them alone; if they are a secondary disability then you must claim the primary disability as well as the migraines (if you are not already service-connected for the primary disability).
If the migraine is primary, there are several ways to show proof of migraines being service connected in order to file a claim. If a Veteran can show that they were treated for migraines in service with service medical records or can show an injury or illness in service that caused migraines with a nexus statement from a physician then there is the likelihood they can get service connection for their migraines. Proving service connection without that proof is more difficult, but it is possible. Having proof of exposure to certain environmental issues such as burn pits, extremely loud noises, or being in close range of explosives can provide nexus or link the migraine to military service.
If the migraine is secondary, the Veteran will need the diagnosis, treatment records, and the nexus showing that the primary disability caused or probably caused (50% or greater likelihood) the migraines. More in-depth information about secondary service-connection can be found here.
Treatment of Migraines
Some new treatments have been making the scene lately with positive results. Most medications are hit or miss; some having to be taken within a limited time frame for effectiveness, others have side effects that are often as bad as the migraines, and some having limits on how much can be taken in a week/month so that sufferers are discouraged from using them for fear of running out. New treatments such as Botox injections and Cefaly treatments can be costly if you are not already service connected and your VA Clinic does not provide these treatments. Regardless of whether a Veteran has a claim for disability or not, treatment for migraines is available and should be taken advantage of if possible. Migraines are debilitating and can decrease the quality of life tremendously so do whatever possible to get treatment.