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Migraine Sufferers Find Relief in Artistic Expression

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But an artful bent can be a curse as well. To better understand the relationship between art and migraine, Vick surveyed all 150 entrants in the 1998 Migraine Masterpieces contest. To his surprise, 40% returned the surveys, which is better than the average response to most survey studies.

While he found that "many people found that making art was helpful to them -- a therapeutic experience, like a miracle, ... we were surprised that sometimes making art was hurtful," he says. Sometimes the materials and processes used in art actually trigger headaches, he explains.

"Others said that tension of making artwork under deadline [as is true for commercial artists], or the light conditions they needed to work in -- the bright light or the computer -- can induce pain. The smell of solvents might trigger migraine," Vick says. "Whether their art was a vocation or hobby, some people found themselves avoiding it."

Doctors should be aware of this; so should headache sufferers, Vick tells WebMD. Making a simple switch -- to water-based paint or watercolor, for example -- might help solve the headache problem for some. Vick's study was published in a 1999 issue of Headache Quarterly.

While art therapy "has been tried with people suffering from continuous pain, like cancer-related pain, there is no study out there to indicate benefit of this form of therapy [in migraine patients]," Mitsias says.

But listen to the migraine sufferers themselves, who insist that art helps. "Without a doubt, art helps relieve headaches," says the contest's second-place winner, photographer Thomas C. Lolan of Cincinnati, who submitted a digitized, computer-generated photograph. His migraine-themed depiction: A woman with her head in a vise.

"When I'm at the computer or doing photography, those are the times when I have the fewest headaches," Lolan tells WebMD. "When I keep my mind focused on the subjects, I can ignore the other things that might induce the headache. Stress -- that's what triggers my headaches. But when I have my camera in my hand, I'm in control. My work allows me to relax."

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