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Driving with Migraine: When Attacks Turn Routine Tasks into Dangerous Situations

Nurse suffering from migraine symptoms as she prepares to drive home from work
Getty Images/Fertnig

People living with migraine can legally drive without restrictions. However, symptoms such as debilitating headaches, fatigue, dizziness, and impaired vision can highly affect driving ability. Likewise, side effects from medication may make it unsafe to get behind the wheel.

But sometimes, driving can't be avoided, or the migraine may worsen as you travel. Today, Ciara O'Rourke explores the necessity of taking action before a migraine attack potentially puts you and others in danger on the road.

During a migraine attack, driving is one of the most difficult things for me to do. Unfortunately, driving is a daily must in my life. 

I work in Dublin, Ireland, but, as for many working in the area, the accommodation costs meant I had to move from the city to the suburbs in 2008. Since then, driving to and from work has become essential. It's not something that I particularly mind doing. In fact, I've found peace in it; it's a way to distance myself from the long list of responsibilities I have at home and my job. 

But during a migraine attack? Driving isn't only uncomfortable - it can also be quite dangerous. 

When migraine strikes, it can feel like you’re in an impossible situation

There are many types of migraines and headaches, each with unique signs and symptoms. My symptoms come in the form of chronic daily headache (CDH), which can affect me for 20 to 25 days every month. On top of CDH, I also have migraine attacks, as many as two to six per month. 

My migraines would best be labeled as "vestibular migraine." I get a severe headache with associated blurred or impaired vision. An attack makes me feel dizzy, as though the room is spinning. I also have to deal with nausea and vomiting, fatigue, and sensitivity to light (also known as photophobia). As you can imagine, driving becomes nearly impossible during an attack! 

However, when I have a migraine at work or while out and about, I often don't have any other options but to drive. Of course, my husband or a friend will pick me up whenever they can, but this can't always happen. 

When I get a migraine, the only place I want to be is in bed in a darkened room. Unfortunately, I have chosen to drive while having a migraine, and this has never been an enjoyable experience. 

Living with migraine isn’t our choice, but it is our responsibility to manage it wisely

On one occasion, I remember being at work when I felt a migraine attack coming. I had a hectic day scheduled, so I decided to stay at work. I took some of my prescribed medication, had something to eat, and made my way over to attend a meeting.

The migraine only continued to get worse and worse. The next thing I knew, the nausea (and vomiting) was so intense that I had to leave the meeting early. I went back to my office and tried to call my husband. He's a teacher and, unfortunately, he couldn't collect me as he was in the middle of a class. I decided to drive home - a commute of approximately 30 minutes along a major motorway.

I prepared myself as best I could for the drive and took plenty of fluids. But, honestly, there aren't many ways to prepare at that stage. I wasn't even 10 minutes into the commute before the need to vomit meant I had to pull over. Trying to collect yourself on the side of a busy motorway is not something I'd ever recommend. 

I had another bout of nausea and vomiting, causing me to pull over before finally making it home. That day, I wish I'd listened to my body and left work before the symptoms had become so bad. 

We need to listen to our bodies – for our safety and sometimes for the safety of others, too

Unfortunately, this condition often means that symptoms can occur anytime, anywhere. I've tried not to let migraine stop me from living my life and achieving my goals. But, at times, I've had to appreciate that this illness can interfere with things, and we must acknowledge it when it does. We have to deal with it safely, even if it means completely stopping what we're doing and pressing pause on what we need to do. 

I should have left work early that day. I shouldn't have let the migraine get so bad that I was forced to drive while trying to manage severe complications during an attack. I put myself and others at risk, and this is something that I worry about. 

Boundaries and realistic goals are essential when living with chronic migraine. I don't always get it right, but I am working on making these small changes to improve my quality of life.

The information presented is solely for educational purposes, not as specific advice for the evaluation, management, or treatment of any condition.

The individual(s) who have written and created the content and whose images appear in this article have been paid by Teva Pharmaceuticals for their contributions. This content represents the opinions of the contributor and does not necessarily reflect those of Teva Pharmaceuticals. Similarly, Teva Pharmaceuticals does not review, control, influence, or endorse any content related to the contributor's websites or social media networks. This content is intended for informational and educational purposes and should not be considered medical advice or recommendations. Consult a qualified medical professional for diagnosis and before beginning or changing any treatment regimen. 


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