4 Ways Migraines Dumb You Down and Scramble Your Thoughts
updated July 2018
Headache pain, like all pain, inhibits work. But pain like this, felt at the core of one’s being, in the brain, carries an added challenge in interfering with how you think,” author and headache warrior Paula Kamen writes in her hilarious memoir, All in My Head. From brain fog to memory loss, migraines can have a huge impact on the speed and grace of your thoughts.
As if the pounding temples, nauseous stomach, and overly sensitive sight were bad enough, research suggests that migraines change your cognitive functioning. Even worse, some of the brain changes persist between migraine attacks (1)! Before you throw in the towel on your Magnus Opus or give up on your brain entirely, though, rest assured that people with migraines are capable of amazing intellectual feats. Richard Wagner, Julius Caesar, Thomas Jefferson, Sigmund Freud, Lewis Carrol, and Vincent Van Gogh all suffered from migraine attacks.
From the beginning stages to the dreaded migraine hangover, migraines garble thoughts in frustrating – and sometimes entertaining- ways.
1. Brain fog
“Uh, what was I saying again?”
“Oh shoot, that’s not the right PIN number…”
“Where the heck did I put my glasses?” (as they rest on the top of my head)
Instances like these are way too familiar for those of us with migraine. Brain fog is incredibly common. During some migraine attacks, the fog descends in the early stages, sticks around through the pain haze, and still lingers during the dreaded hangover phase (see below).
As frustrating as it can be, brain fog does keep things interesting. After the sting of embarrassment subsides, it helps to laugh our abilities to forget the same PIN we’ve had for four years or misplace every item we come in contact. Laughter is, after all, the best medicine.
Speaking of medicine…
2. Side Effects, Like the Dopamax Effect
Sometimes, the drugs that are meant to prevent or treat migraines make brain fog even worse. Our poor brains. Topamax is an antiepileptic drug that is commonly prescribed to prevent migraines. The brain fog it causes is so intense and prevalent that Topamax users nicknamed the drug “Dopamax.”
Like many folks with chronic migraine, I am no stranger to Dopamax and the unique, foggy state it creates. The fog is so intense that Topamax is responsible for some pretty hysterical cognitive lapses (aka brain farts.) We invited our Facebook community to share their stories of Dopamax woe.
The top 5 Topamax side effects our community reports:
- Sat on toilet, wiped – then peed.
- Poured iced tea into a bag of sugar instead of a glass.
- Forgot how to get to the same place I’ve worked at for four years.
- Put the milk jug in the dryer.
- Placed the kitchen timer in the oven and melted it.
Migraines bring a lot of baggage, and most of it is not good. Being able to laugh at ourselves is super helpful – not to mention entertaining.
3. Memory Loss
The favorite story in my family regarding my “migraine brain” focuses on memory loss with migraines. I was experiencing some migraine pain, as I did every day, and was also nice and medicated. Needless to say, my brain was adequately mushy.
My mom spilled sauce on herself while cooking, and I offered to bring her a new shirt from upstairs. By the time I completed the trek from the kitchen to the stop of the staircase, I had completely forgot why I was there.
Actually, to my own embarrassment, not only did I forget, but I forgot partially because I was distracted by my own reflection in the mirror. After weeks and weeks of daily migraines and pajamas, I was amazed at how I normal I looked wearing jeans. When my mom came upstairs a few minutes later – half-clothed, impatient and cold – she immediately busted up laughing. Of course, as soon as I saw her, I remembered my mission and grew incredibly embarrassed.
Everyone has a story of walking into a room and forgetting why you were there. But living with migraine attacks makes these stories a just little more potent and a little more frequent.
4. Postdrome: The Migraine Hangover
Of course, the joy of a migraine attack doesn’t end once the worse of it is over. Oh no, that would be way too easy. Instead, we are left with a head full of scrambled eggs and a body that feels like it got hit by a freight train. After the worse of the migraine is over, the postdrome stage begins – aka the migraine hangover.
Just like an alcohol hangover, a migraine hangover makes you feel downright awful all over. Your head still kinda hurts, your stomach is off, your body aches, and your brain really does not want to work correctly. Our Facebook community sounds off on their experiences with the migraine hangover:
“I always have postdrome. The pain is gone, but I can’t function for days. I’m even afraid to drive.” – Cindy G.
“I didn’t even know there was a name for what I was feeling. People always tell me I look like I’m half asleep when I come into work after a bad migraine. No one can understand how you feel unless they experience migraines…” – Ginny M.
“I don’t always have postdrome, but whenever I do it feels worse than migraine itself. I feel drained out, groggy, and my energy level goes down. You technically don’t have migraine but you still can’t function properly. ” – Mala B.
“I get this after serious migraines, and I always say I feel foggy and I can’t focus. I lose a whole extra day after serious migraines.” – Robs GG.
“More often than not I feel like my brain has gone to play rugby without my body’s permission. I’m tired, foggy, my brain feels bruised, irritable, and I feel plain stupid like I just can’t think. It’s awful.” – Ange S.
The symptoms of Migraine are so far-reaching and can last so long, that Migraine sometimes feels like the crummy gift that keeps on giving. Understanding that the memory loss and brain fog that we experience during an attack is not permanent helps to deal with aggravating migraine brain. Stay tuned for an upcoming article about how migraines may actually be making our brains stronger and better at memory – at least when we don’t have a migraine.
So if you find yourself temporarily forgetting your dog’s name or putting your pants on backward, don’t despair! There is hope for us yet.
Comments? Do you experience issues with memory loss or cognitive dysfunction during a migraine?
Image: Graphic Stock
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