Danica Patrick is an accomplished race car driver, model, spokesperson and author. She’s one of only 14 drivers ever to lead laps in both the Indianapolis 500 and Daytona 500. But Patrick, 35, is also one of over 38 million Americans suffering from migraine attacks.
“I remember when I first started getting [migraine attacks], I didn’t know what was happening to me,” Patrick says. “They’re so different than a headache. They are usually a 48-hour transition period. I get to the point where I even feel nauseous. There’s been plenty of times on where I’m laying on the couch in the living room just trying to figure out what can I do to feel better.”
Despite the fact that roughly 12 percent of the U.S. population suffers from the neurological disease, migraine misinformation remains rampant. Patrick has teamed with the Excedrin Works campaign (excedrin.com/migraines) to raise awareness about a disease that significantly impacts the workplace, resulting in an estimated 113 million missed work days and $13 billion lost annually.
Unlike other common ailments such as diabetes or heart disease, overall health does not appear to be a factor when it comes to susceptibility to migraines. Even a workout warrior and diet-obsessed athlete like Patrick is at risk.
“I would go so far as to say I don’t know anyone that eats healthier than me,” says Patrick, who has a food and fitness book, Pretty Intense, coming out in December. “I eat a lot of fruits, vegetables, grass-fed, quality, wild-caught proteins, nuts and seeds. And I generally follow a paleo diet. The only kind of sugars that I add into my diet are honey and maple syrup, and natural ones with fruit.”
Patrick takes precautionary steps to minimize the frequency of her migraine attacks. She has had an MRI and environmental allergy testing. She abides by a consistent meal and sleep routine. She abstains from alcohol or exercise when she feels a migraine coming on. Now she is raising awareness on the volatile and unpredictable nature of the disease.
“I wish I had all the answers to what is always going to trigger a migraine,” says Patrick. “It’s not 100 percent. I don’t always know. I just try and do what I can.”
“Migraine is characterized by episodes of neurologic symptoms,” says Dr. Elizabeth Seng, a headache researcher and clinical psychologist. “Migraine pain is typically on one side of your head. It’s moderate to severe, it pulses, and it gets worse with physical activity. Other symptoms can include nausea and vomiting, sensitivity to light and sound, as well as sensitivity to other sensations like smell and touch. Many people with migraine experience cognitive changes. Difficulty thinking. A little bit of confusion.”
For migraine sufferers, there are a variety of factors that might “trigger” an attack.
• Lack of food/water
• Lack of sleep
• Increased stress
• Harsh lighting
• Strong smells
• Loud sounds
• Hormonal changes
“It’s really important to catch these attacks early. And many people with migraine report waiting until the end of the next meeting or the end of the next phone call or just get through a few more emails. But by that point, the migraine may be in a full-blown attack. It’s much harder to treat at that point,” says Seng.
“In general, if you’re having a headache and you don’t know what it is, you should talk to your doctor and make sure that you have the right diagnosis. Especially if your headache came on suddenly, or you had headaches for a long time and it suddenly changed.”