For millions of people across the United States, migraine headaches are a complex neurological condition that is not easily understood. While it has been studied for decades, the causes, treatment, genetic links, and possible comorbidities are studied around the world. While migraines are more common in women, they are also quite common in men, even famous men, according to the New York Times.
Jeremy Kerley sensed trouble already coming on. Troubled sleep is often his trigger, he said. The migraine eventually hit him hard and fast late in last week’s game against the Giants. Once he gets to that point, there is no coming back for quite a while – he is completely disabled from the pain, vision disturbances, lack of thought clarity, and nausea. If he is able to continue to play the game of football, he does not play well.
Migraines are a malady that some think of as a “very bad headache.” While that is true, there is so much more complexity to migraines than that. Thought to be triggered by things like fatigue, hunger, emotional stress, certain wines and cheeses – there is definitely a chemical component that seems to affect a unilateral (just one side) of the head. Common symptoms include seeing flashing lights, nausea and vomiting, photophobia (light hurting eyes), numbness and tingling and limbs, inability to think coherently, emotional outburst, and blinding pain. Under these circumstances, it is clear to see why most could not continue to do their job, especially football. Unfortunately, football has a lot of the stressors that cause migraines: stress, intensity, glaring sun, deafening crowds, intense concentration. Although it’s not often talked about, it is a common malady in the National Football League.
Kerley, the Jets‘ punt returner, knew that it was useless to continue at that point in the game, and he returned to the locker room and did not return to the field again that game. As the Jets overcame the Giants in overtime, he was receiving intravenous fluids and oxygen from medical personnel to help relieve the physical suffering that has plagued him since high school. He was not able to celebrate with his teammates. The pain was totally encompassing.
For Kerley, migraines are the unknown enemy that consistently follows him like a thief in the night. They hit him hard almost once a month, even though he rarely talks about it – it’s too hard to explain to other people sometimes. He knew his grandfather got them, so there is a genetic component. Only recently, he discovered that his dad did, too.
“It’s luck of the draw, I guess, It’s a crazy thing. I never know when they will affect me.”
While neurologists accept migraines to be as serious and debilitating as epilepsy, the world often does not. There’s a stigma associated with them that makes it hard to discuss or educate others, although Kersey is not the only NFL player to suffer from severe pain of migraines. When Kerley felt a severe migraine attack coming on last season after a game at Minnesota, his teammate Percy Harvin patted him on the back and quietly told him he understood — he, too, has suffered from migraine most of his life.
Finding the magic bullet to prevent and treat migraines is harder than winning the Super bowl. Many swear by trigger aversion, but a career in the NFL makes that difficult. Others use medications such as beta blockers or Imitrex. Others use supplements such as magnesium, while others must use narcotics, which cause a host of other problems like lethargy, constipation, and nausea.
Many are quick to judge a player’s performance, but it could be he is struggling from a debilitating neurological problem.
[image by Getty]