The National Migraine Centre
“They help me to live life to the full”
Beth Briscoe, 42, from London explains how the National Migraine Centre has helped her to cope with her condition
“I was stunned to realise how many migraines I was actually getting and that it could be up to five a week”
“I felt embarrassed to talk about my migraines as I didn’t think people would understand”
Beth Briscoe had always been in good health until one day, at the age of 27, as she was travelling on the Tube to work, she noticed a ripple effect in her line of vision followed by flashing lights. “I instantly went into a state of panic, not knowing what was going on,” Beth recalls. “I remember getting off the Tube and calling my mum, saying I thought I had a brain tumour – I was so worried there was something seriously wrong with me.”
Beth’s mum – who had suffered from severe migraines for much of her life – explained it sounded like she was having one too, and advised her to go home and rest.
“I was shocked as I hadn’t realised how debilitating and scary migraines could be. I had always thought of them just as headaches, but these were more than that.”
Beth started to suffer from frequent migraines with a variety of symptoms, many of which left her wiped out for days. “I would experience light sensitivity, nausea, stomach aches, visual disturbances and sensitivity to smell. I had neck pain and tingling and numbness in my face or down one side of my body, problems with my speech where I would find it really hard to formulate words, and I would get anxious and just burst into tears.”
However, Beth didn’t feel she could go to the doctor with a ‘headache’. “I had grown up watching TV shows where migraines were always given as an excuse to get out of things, and I remembered getting frustrated as a child when my mum would cancel plans because of hers, so I had it in my mind that telling someone you had one sounded quite pathetic,” she explains.
It wasn’t until three years later, while seeing her GP for something else, that Beth brought up her migraines in passing. “The GP prescribed co-codamol but it didn’t really do anything. I had it in my head that migraines were just one of those things I had to deal with and continued to struggle through them.
“I tried to avoid triggers such as red wine, and would take a paracetamol if I got an attack, but mostly I tried to ignore my migraines in the hope they would just go away.”
Over the years, regular migraines took their toll on Beth.
“I never knew how or when migraines were going to affect me and would worry about them coming on if I had important plans, and sometimes the fear of getting a migraine would actually bring one on. I ended up missing many days of work – although I would often try to power through until the little dot I would see in the middle of my spreadsheets got bigger and bigger – and social events too. I worried that my colleagues would resent me as they would have to pick up my workload when I was off sick, and that my friends would see my migraines as an excuse.”
By November 2017, despite having tried a few different medications prescribed by her GP, Beth found her migraines were getting worse. “When my sister, Jessica, started working as a migraine specialist at the National Migraine Centre, she suggested I give it a call.
“It arranged an appointment with a specialist headache doctor for the following week, and asked me to print off a diary sheet from its website and fill it in with my symptoms, daily routine and medication. I was stunned to realise how many migraines I was actually getting – sometimes up to five a week.”
The doctor gave Beth advice on adapting her daily routine. “We got down to the small details – such as making time for breakfast, eating regularly and staying hydrated – which can be difficult when managing a busy lifestyle but I soon learnt can make a real difference. She also explained about the cycle of a migraine, and how the trigger can occur quite some time before the migraine attack, and completely changed my medication. I was told to take aspirin rather than paracetamol at the first sign of a migraine, and was given a different triptan to take if the aspirin didn’t work, as the one I was on was making me really drowsy.”
Since Beth’s appointment, she’s felt better equipped to cope. “I now know how to recognise a migraine earlier and treat it straight away, which means they have become less severe. Before, I could be wiped out for around three days, but that’s happening less and less often now so I miss fewer workdays and social events.
“I also feel less panicked if a migraine comes on when I’m out and about, as the specialist advised me to carry around a little pack with my aspirin, triptan and a snack, so I’m more proactive and feel more prepared. I love socialising and try to live my life to the full, so that has definitely been important.”
The National Migraine Centre is using the money raised in The Candis Big Give to hire and train another headache specialist doctor. “It’s so important that people are able to speak to someone who really understands migraines, as a lot of GPs don’t have such specialist knowledge. For me, being able to sit and chat for an hour to someone who really understood what I was going through was amazing. I actually feel less embarrassed to talk about my migraines now as I feel like they’ve been taken seriously.
“While I would love for there to be a complete cure for migraines one day, I know that’s a long way off. Until then, the National Migraine Centre is there to help to lessen the impact of them on people’s lives. It’s a huge relief to know there is somewhere I can turn to if I need more support in the future, rather than struggling through on my own.”
- Migraines affect around 10 per cent of the population in the UK – around six million people
- You can access treatment and support at the National Migraine Centre without the need for a GP referral
- The charity has 39 years’ experience and has treated more than 58,000 patients with its team of specialist doctors
National Migraine Centre
Total raised: £19,304
Due to the growing demand for the service, the National Migraine Centre will use the money raised in The Candis Big Give to hire and train another headache specialist doctor for two sessions per week for one year. Once trained, this doctor will treat 450 patients suffering from severe migraines and headaches. Each doctor helps sufferers to manage migraines and other headaches, and works with them on a personalised treatment plan. Most patients need to see a specialist headache doctor only twice before they feel able to manage their headaches better.
Visit nationalmigrainecentre.org.uk or call 020 7251 3322 to find out more.