Friday, August 22, 2008
Alice’s wonderland of rushing rabbits, magical brews, queen of hearts, shrinking sizes, Cheshire cats, pool of tears, knaves and tumbling cards did not blossom merely from Lewis Carroll’s imagination. Experts opine that the author who weaved the Wonderland has recreated, in his fantasy yarn, some of his experiences while grappling with migraine.
“Many of the descriptions conjured for Carroll’s stories were based on classic migraine experiences,” says neurologist Mary Ann Mays, M.D, of the Cleveland Clinic. “Only a person who had experienced these phenomena would be able to describe them.”
Today, “Alice in Wonderland syndrome” is a term used by neurologists to refer to a perception disorder that is characterized by hallucinations and visual disturbances –symptoms that are associated with the ‘aura’ that precedes a migraine.
A migraine is a traumatic experience, which the sufferer usually hates to recall. It is an intense, throbbing pain affecting one or both sides of the head. A migraine episode may last for a few hours or may extend for days; some are so severe that it incapacitates the sufferers, leaving them bed-ridden
It is still not clear why migraines occur although several triggers have been identified such as stress, pollution, noise, odors, certain medications, caffeine, champagne, red wine, processed meat, old cheese and chocolates. Hormonal changes and change in routine schedules are also known to usher in migraines.
Migraines seem to favor women, as they are three times more likely to suffer from the condition, compared to men. And it also observed that there is a genetic predisposition involved- the chances of the victims’ children being affected is higher than the children of normal individuals.
All about Aura
The word ‘aura’, which conjures up a surreal vision of subtle splendor, is actually an array of psychologic or neurologic disturbances that precedes a migraine episode.
Auras have a short life span; they may last for 5 to 20 minutes with their frequencies varying among individuals. Some experience it once in a lifetime while others experience it every day.
Auras comprise of symptoms such as vertigo, imbalance, confusion or numbness. Another intriguing feature of the aura is the dramatic visual effects or ‘special effects’-flashing lights, floaters, zigzag lines, complex colors and shapes.
Migraines are broadly classified into two- those with and those without aura. Although migraines with aura are less common , they are more challenging, medically, and can be more unsettling for the affected individuals.
The ‘one-eyed’ monster
In the ocular variety, which is the rarest migraine, individuals experience the ‘bizarre’ associated with the aura, but only in one eye. These symptoms are temporary and do not cause permanent damage. This is commonly followed by a migraine headache.
Some patients see blind spots or “holes,” which is actually a reference to the missing segments in a normal visual field. Shades of black or gray over the visual field are also viewed by some. Some people draw a comparison between these visual phenomena and the faulty patterns produced by an old television, with compromised reception. Others believe it is like looking through wet glass.
Although the experiences are similar for patients who experience ocular migraine and conventional migraine, there are differences.
One key difference is the source of the visual disturbances in the two headaches. In case of ocular migraine, the retinal blood vessels, inside the eye, play the trick, while the occipital cortex of the brain is the source of visual disturbances in migraines with aura.
Therefore, there seems to be some instant remedy for those affected with the ocular migraine. All they need to do is to close the affected eyes to stop the symptoms.
Taking the bull by the horn
Visiting a neurologist is not a bad idea for people who suffer from ocular headache. This would help to rule out other conditions, such as stroke or retinal artery thrombosis that produce similar symptoms.
Traditionally, anti-inflammatory agents have been used to treat migraines. Although not ideal for ocular migraines, the recently discovered triptans, are believed to be God –sent. A healthy life style with consistent patterns holds the key to a migraine-free existence.
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