Art and Pain Migraine

The Tapestry magazine, October, 2003

Art and Pain Migraine
Olea Nova, a La Crosse-based artist born in St. Petersburg, Russia, began her artistic study of migraine when asked to do so by a medical researcher writing a book about headaches. "I was intrigued by this subject," she says. "Portraying what another person feels without experiencing the symptoms myself, was challenging and exciting. Asking Questions such as how a migraine starts, what triggers the pain, what a person feels or wants to do during the migraine, etc., helped me to understand what migraine pain is... It appears to be something happening inside of the brain, a sort of electrical brain storm."

While she drew extensively on interviews with migraine sufferers when conceiving her work, Nova says that "the images in the artwork have nothing in common with the real personalities behind them... their pain became the prototype for the artwork."

Some pieces in the series Nova has developed on migraine pain illustrate the complexity of migraine symptoms. In a painting entitled Migraine in a Split, Nova notes, "the vision field is getting smaller, the person may see flashes of light -- like shooting stars in front of the eyes -- this is how the brain signals the beginning of a migraine. Migraine headaches start at the base of the skull and feel like a spike has been driven inside the head in to the eye. The pain is getting stronger. Light that goes in to the eyes also causes pain which feels like a second spike. All face and skull muscles experience the sensation of being twisted and pulled away. Migraine symptoms also include nausea and photophobia."

Nova used a variety of media in her series -- tempera, pastel, watercolor, colored pencil -- and has taken it on the road as a traveling art exhibit entitled "Piercing Conflict." To date, the "Piercing Conflict" exhibit has been shown at the Wisconsin Department of Administration Building in Madison, the Chicago School of Professional Psychology, and at the open house for the neurology department at Gundersen-Lutheran Hospital in La Crosse, WI, in early September.

Lee Sedlacek, C.N.S., M.N., an Advanced Practice Nurse specializing in the treatment of headache at Gundersen-Lutheran Hospital, worked with Nova in preparing the open house exhibit. Sedlacek, who practices in the Department of Neurology, sat on the national panel of the Agency for Health Care Policy and Reform to develop guidelines for the treatment of headache, and is especially interested in the hormonal aspects of migraine and in utilizing non-pharmacological treatments.

According to figures provided by Sedlacek, more that 28 million Americans suffer from migraine. Women suffer from migraine more than men during each decade of their most productive years, from age 25 through age55, with peak prevalence around age 40. The American Council for Headache Education suggests specifically that "16 out of every 100 women, on average (or 16%), suffer from migraine headaches." Changes in hormones, such as a decrease in estrogen levels, are likely to be a trigger for migraine in some women.

The direct cost of medical care of migraine in the United States have not been studied extensively; and although some estimates suggest direct costs at just over $1 billion, Sedlacek and others maintain that this is an underestimate: "it [does] not capture nonspecific treatment costs, OTC medications, prophylaxis, and non drug interventions," they offer by way of example. Further, since the $1 billion estimate is based on 1994 data, it does not account for the appearance of several new anti migraine medications that have become available; and "the analysis was based on an insured population that might not be representative of other groups."

Still, these experts suggest, the direct costs of medical care of migraine in the United States are relatively low in comparison with the indirect costs: missed workdays, reduced productivity, unemployment and underemployment due to migraine, value of lost time for those who work at home or who, while not migraine sufferers themselves, may miss work to care for another family member who is suffering a migraine attack.

The American Council for Headache Education estimates that headache (not necessary migraine, specifically) is one of the most common causes for absenteeism from work. "On average headache sufferers lose an average of 1.1 days of work every three months (or over 4 workdays per year)."

Article Copyright (c) 2003 The Tapestry magazine

The Tapestry magazine is an independent monthly magazine about people and lifestyles of the upper Mississippi River valley.

Images of Migraine Artwork:

Copyright © Olea Nova 2001-2018. All rights reserved.