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Migraines, Social Security Disability, and Applying for Benefits


Although the neurological syndrome called Migraine is most commonly thought of as a severe, pulsating, painful headache, there are many symptoms which happen during an ‘attack’. Other symptoms may include vomiting, nausea, sensitivity to sound, sensitivity to light, pain in various parts of the body and perceptual disturbances called ‘aura’. Aura manifests as either an unpleasant smell or strange lights and is also present in some forms of epilepsy; nearly one-third of migraine sufferers report aura. Some migraines are with aura and some are without.

Migraine usually last from four to seventy-two hours and is extremely common in the United States. Around six percent of men and eighteen percent of women report experiencing migraine. It is thought that migraine disorder can be genetic, though some types may be due to hormone organ disease, injury or hormonal changes. Many female sufferers mysteriously lose their migraines during pregnancy.

Migraines are classified into no pain, mild pain, moderate pain and severe pain that can prevent daily activities. When a migraine headache symptom is without aura, diagnosis can only be made if there have been five attacks that last four to seventy-two hours, accompanied by either a pulsating, throbbing quality, moderate or severe pain, aggravation that interrupts physical activity and unilateral location. Two of these symptoms must be present. Also, one other symptom must be present from the following four: nausea, vomiting, sensitivity to sound or sensitivity to light.

When a migraine is with aura it must also be accompanied by visual disturbances such as flickering lights or spots, sensory symptoms such as numbness and pins and needles or speech disturbance. At least one of the symptoms must be present for a diagnosis. In addition, it must also have a least two of these symptoms: visual and/or sensory symptoms affecting just one side of the body, at least one aura symptom lasting over five minutes and symptoms lasting from five to sixty minutes.

There are many different causes or ‘triggers’ that lead to migraine. Allergic reactions, smoking, skipping meals, certain foods, alcohol, birth control pills, caffeine, the menstrual cycle, stress, bright lights, loud sounds, strong odors, and even certain weather changes can all affect or trigger migraine. At times it may even appear for no apparent reason.

There are different types of migraines, from basilar, familial and abdominal to acephalgic, and menstrual. They signs and symptoms can vary greatly among patients, but there are generally four stages. The first stage is called prodrome and it includes depression or euphoria, sleepiness, food cravings, yawning, fatigue, increased urination, stiff neck muscles and either constipation or diarrhea. These symptoms are usually seen hours or days before the headache comes along. The aura stage, if it is present, generally happens right before the headache stage. Aura can consist of visual impairments, such as cloudy vision, tunnel vision or strange lights and patterns. It can also be accompanied by pins-and-needles, numbness and other odd sensory symptoms, as well as a sensitivity to touch and unpleasant smells.

Next is the pain stage. Generally, a migraine is unilateral and throbbing, and can be moderate to severe. Although it can settle on one side, it may also switch back and forth. The pain stage usually lasts from four to seventy-two hours. During this stage nausea is present in nearly 90 percent of patients.

The last stage of migraine is usually the ‘postdrome’ stage which leaves sufferers feeling irritable, tired and drained. Some feel depressed, others feel euphoric. A long nap helps many relieve this stage.

There are many theory’s on what causes migraine, such as the depolarization theory, vascular theory, serotonin theory, neural theory and unifying theory, though the cause is not completely understood. It is estimated that 12-18 percent of people will experience migraine at some point in their life.

There are many different treatments for migraine. Trigger avoidance is one form of treatment and may require lifestyle changes, such as diet modification. There are also many drugs for symptomatic control and also, preventative drugs. These treatments are not fool-proof, some work and some don’t. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs are usually the first line of treatment. Paracetamol (ibuprofen), aspirin, serotonin agonists, triptans, narcotic pain relievers and other prescription drugs may be used for treatment. Prophylactics are used for management and prevention. Many people have also found that bodywork, massage, acupuncture and a variety of other alternative treatments help with migraine.








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These pages answer some of the most basic questions for individuals who are considering filing a claim.

Can you get temporary Social Security Disability or SSI benefits?

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What happens if I file a disability application and it is denied by a disability examiner or Judge?









For the sake of clarity, SSDRC.com is not the Social Security Administration, nor is it associated or affiliated with SSA. This site is a personal, private website that is published, edited, and maintained by former caseworker and former disability claims examiner, Tim Moore, who was interviewed by the New York Times on the topic of Social Security Disability and SSI benefits in an article entitled "The Disability Mess" and also by the Los Angeles Times on the subject of political attempts to weaken the Social Security Disability system.

The goal of the site is to provide information about how Social Security Disability and SSI work, the idea being that qualified information may help claimants pursue their claims and appeals, potentially avoiding time-consuming mistakes. If you find the information on this site helpful and believe it would be helpful to others, feel free to share links to its homepage or other pages on website resource pages, blogs, or social media. Copying of this material, however, is prohibited.

To learn more about the author, please visit the SSDRC.com homepage and view the "about this site" link near the bottom of the page.