Migraine Treatment, Prevention in Black Women According to a recent study, African Americans tend to report higher levels of headache pain but are less likely to get treatment. TNT sportscaster Pam Oliver is an advocate for women suffering from migraine headaches. She talks with Farai Chideya about what causes painful headaches and what can be done to help.
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Migraine Treatment, Prevention in Black Women

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Migraine Treatment, Prevention in Black Women

Migraine Treatment, Prevention in Black Women

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Most of us have had a day where we think I just can't take it anymore. Some folks have headaches, and some get migraines, a whole different force-factor of pain. You may know Pam Oliver as a sportscaster for TNT. She's also a member of the Black Women's Health Imperative, and migraines are something she knows about personally. Hi, Pam.

Ms. PAM OLIVER (Sportscaster, TNT; Member, Black Women's Health Imperative): Hi, Farai, how are you? Don't forget my day job, Fox Sports.

CHIDEYA: Fox sports, okay.

Ms. OLIVER: That's my day job.

CHIDEYA: Absolutely appreciate it. So tell me about your struggle with migraines. Have you always dealt with them?

Ms. OLIVER: Oh man, it seems for most of my life, I'd had these issues with migraines, really I can say definitively for the last 20 years. I'm 47. So I noticed there was one point in my life, I had to take a leave of absence, Farai, because I could not literally shake what I thought was a common headache. I just felt like oh, I get these bad headaches, and I'm just prone to bad headaches.

Well, you know, it turned out, you know, all this time later, I finally got the diagnosis that I was suffering from migraine headaches, which are a whole different animal. If you have a migraine, if you're a migraine sufferer, you can feel my pain. You know what I'm talking about. It's not the common oh, you know, little tension here, a little pressure here. It is really quite debilitating, and that's kind of what separates them from what you would call an ordinary headache.

CHIDEYA: Is there any kind of difference in how often people have headaches or for what, when they're black women?

Ms. OLIVER: Black women particularly are prone, for whatever reason, to migraine headaches. They are, however, the last people to get treatment, to go out and seek help for migraines, and I think that's probably, you know, something that's maybe a little bit cultural or, you know, we feel we have to be tough and strong and can't afford to lose work, and all sorts of issues kind of tumble into that, but for whatever reason, black women are the last to get treatment, and I really hope that changes. It doesn't have to be. You don't have to, you know, literally be shut off in a dark room.

You know what, Farai? I actually own a pair of black-out curtains. That's pathetic, isn't it, that it just´┐Ż?

CHIDEYA: Well, tell us exactly why that helps by blocking out the light.

Ms. OLIVER: It helps - if you're a person who suffers from migraines, you find yourself to be completely insensitive, or your tolerance of light is definitely acute. You're not the same. It bothers you. There are other triggers, whether it's chocolate or cheese or certain types of foods. It's kind of all over the place, and the symptoms depend on the individual.

But for me, I found that it was kind of sometimes an issue with light that tumbled into something else, maybe, you know, whatever that food or beverage was. I hadn't quite narrowed it down to figure out what exactly my triggers are. I just know that I always have to fight, really, to try to stay one step ahead of it.

If I have the symptoms of a migraine, I found something that has worked for me because it's specific for migraines. It takes care of the migraine, as opposed to just sort of popping all of these things, not knowing, you know, if they really work. For whatever reason, this medication that's migraine-specific medication was something that has helped me to be able to keep, you know, a couple of steps ahead of a migraine.

CHIDEYA: So as a sportscaster, that's not exactly a black-out curtain, I'm going to just have a quite moment away from the world occupation. So what happens - have you ever had moments where you just said I can't work?

Ms. OLIVER: Oh yeah. You know what? I had those moments early in my career, where I really had no - I had no choice. I couldn't get out of bed. I couldn't see straight. All sorts of things were happening. But as I finally got a hold of them and got the proper diagnosis that I was a migraine sufferer, then you know, I was able to find something that worked, but there had been plenty of times, plenty of games, where I'm standing there, 80,000 people are screaming, bright sunlight, and I'm just going could they just hold it down a little bit?

You know, and you're not going to get, you know, 80,000, you know, ticket-holders to hold it down. So you know, you just kind of figured out - you know, some days I've toughed it out. Some days I've gone on air with a very bad migraine, because that's my job.

CHIDEYA: Has anyone ever just run a tackle into you by accident, shaken up your brain, anything?

Ms. OLIVER: I have never been sideline road-kill. I've made it a point to always know where the action is and to not get caught up in it. There are times, though, when my back is turned, I'm doing a stand-up, for example, and you could see everybody. Their eyes are getting big, and they're just kind of like - you know, my cameraman's really good about pulling me out of the way.

So no, I haven't had any kind of brain scramble to that extent, but yeah, I can see where you're going. A lot of these players who suffer from concussions, eventually, you know, sometimes they can turn into migraine sufferers as well.

CHIDEYA: Well before we let you go, tell us about the Black Women's Health Imperative. How did you get involved, and what are you guys trying to do?

Ms. OLIVER: Oh, it's just a wonderful organization. It's a national, not-for-profit organization that's devoted to tackling health issues as it relates to black women and girls. blackwomenshealth.org is the place to go. You can find out more information about all sorts of health issues that we all sort of are subjected to, and it's a wonderful place to kind of go and find out all sorts of things, particularly about migraines.

But headachequiz.com, Farai, if I could just say that, it is a tremendous Web site, and it'll walk you through all the signs and the symptoms. So you can take that information, take it to your doctor and say can we possibly look at this as opposed to just sort of blindly going through and saying ooh, I have a bad headache, or do I have sinus headache, which by the way medically, there is no such thing.

So black women out there, you know, suffering through these things, and you really don't have to.

CHIDEYA: Pam, thanks so much.

Ms. OLIVER: Thank you. Thanks for having me.

CHIDEYA: Pam Oliver is a sports reporter for Fox Sports and also for TNT, and she joined us from Georgia Public Radio in Atlanta.

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