'My migraines were so debilitating I would just lie in a dark room, but Botox injections have brought down the number of severe days'
After suffering from daily migraines for sixteen years, Nicole Ewart, from Dromore, Co Down, tells Leona O’Neill how her life changed drastically when she began vital medication and Botox treatment
Migraines can be debilitating, with sufferers often having to lie down in a darkened room for hours until the headache and severe nausea passes.
They are usually described as moderate or severe headaches felt as a throbbing pain on one side of the head.
Many people also have symptoms such as feeling sick, vomiting and increased sensitivity to light or sound.
It is a common health condition, affecting around one in every five women and around one in every 15 men. But for rare sufferers, like Co Dromore woman Nicole Ewart, it's a constant pain in their life, rendering them totally incapacitated for days.
The 20-year-old, who is studying English and Sociology at Queen's University Belfast and has dreams of becoming a teacher, says the migraines she experiences are so bad that she can't even lift her head from her pillow.
"I started having migraines when I was a little girl," she says. "But I wasn't properly diagnosed until I was 16-years-old.
"I have had migraines now for as long as I can remember. When I was at school I had to take quite a lot of time off due to feeling nauseous and really fatigued, not to mention the severe headaches. I would have visual disturbances and blind spots in my eyes. And because I was feeling sick with the pain, it was making me feel really awful.
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"It's definitely had such a big impact on me, especially in secondary school. It just kept getting worse, and I had to take more and more days off."
Nicole says she suffers from migraines every day, varying in intensity from mild to totally debilitating. She says it's something she has had to learn to live with.
"I would normally have a migraine every single day," she says. "It would just depend how severe they would be. They are always there, but on bad days they are totally debilitating and I can't really do anything. When it's at its worst, I can't eat or walk around.
"I know as soon as I wake up if I'm going to have a bad day with migraines. My headache will get worse and worse throughout the day until I can't do anything except lie in bed.
"I start feeling really nauseous and any kind of movement will send an awful pain through my head. I'll get a throbbing pain and moving in any way just makes it so much worse.
"I can't look at anything, so I'll just lie in a dark room trying to get through it. Often trying to sleep is impossible, because the pain in my head is so bad. That could last for days on end."
Nicole says doctors are unsure as to what triggers her headaches.
She says it has had a huge effect on her life, with her often missing out on plans with family and friends because of the pain.
"There have been so many family occasions and nights out with friends that I haven't been able to attend because I was too sick to go," she says.
"At my university, they are very understanding about my absence. It just completely takes over your life.
"It effects your mood and everything else. When you are trying to plan events and you're looking forward to going out with you friends, then the next minute you take a migraine and you can't go. It feels awful cancelling plans at the last minute and letting people down. Then, you feel like you can't go out and do stuff because you don't know how your migraine is going to go that day.
"It has had an impact on my mental health as well. It's left me feeling really low, especially on bad days, because there is literally nothing you can do to prevent it. It's totally out of your control because you can't be sure how it will impact you from one day to the next."
Nicole says that migraines have even impacted on her relationships.
"When I was going out with my now ex-boyfriend, he was very understanding," she says.
"I'm single at the moment, but it has had a huge impact on my relationships because when you're trying to plan stuff and then letting people down, at least they know you and understand. You can't plan anything at all when it comes to dates.
"Even going out with friends and family, if there are any big days, birthdays and the like. You just don't know what way it's going to affect you, so you have to take every day as it comes."
Nicole says after living with migraines every single day since childhood, she is now treated with Botox to help ease her pain.
"When I was 16-years-old I was diagnosed with chronic daily migraines. I decided to go to my GP because I was feeling constantly sick - too sick to go to school.
"I tried three different rounds of medication and I got referred to physiotherapy, which didn't help. And from there I was referred to neurology. They were able to diagnose what it was and give me different treatments to try and bring down the number of severe days I have.
"Now I'm on a range of medication and I actually get Botox done every few months.
"I get it on my forehead, around the sides of my head, my neck and on my shoulders also.
"They give me 31 injections every three months. It kind of numbs the muscles and brings down the number of severe pain days.
"It is a fairly new treatment they have been doing. It's a last resort treatment after you have tried the medication and physiotherapy without any success.
"Botox only works with certain types of migraines and I was very lucky it worked for me."
Nicole says that the treatment has changed her life.
"Migraines still have an impact on my life," she says. "But, the Botox treatment has reduced how many bad days I have - the ones where I am totally debilitated, lying in bed, not able to do anything.
"It is a stark change to where I was when I was 16.
"I have been crowned as Face of Great Britain Photographic - a pageant raising money for brain injury charities and focusing on celebrating inspirational people - and I'm going on to compete in the world final in Disneyland in November.
"For years I was unable to do anything because of chronic migraines, but since being diagnosed and as a result of having treatment, I feel I can live life to the full again. I want to prove that health conditions shouldn't stop you from doing anything you set your mind to.
"Through determination I have pushed myself to grasp every opportunity I have been given and haven't let my disability define me. I want to be an advocate to prove you shouldn't let anything stop you in the way of your dreams.
"I was so debilitated for such a long time, so I know what it's like to have something impact your life so much.
"Being able to raise money for something related to people's brains and helping them get back to some kind of life is so meaningful to me."
Nicole says that her life has got so much better after treatment and she wants to shine a light for others in the darkness.
"I still do have bad days," she says. "But the medication helps. I want others to know that you can live life to the full despite illness.
"You shouldn't let any kind of condition or disability hold you back from anything you want to do in life. Grasp every opportunity.
"I have been in the position where I thought things would never get better, but they do and I would tell people to keep trying to get help and to keep pushing themselves.
"I would say that there is light at the end of the tunnel."