Janzen family killings highlight migraine sufferers' plight, says expert

A pain expert says a triple homicide in Chilliwack, B.C., is highlighting the extent of the suffering experienced by people with chronic migraine headaches, and offers six approaches to manage the pain.

Randy Janzen apparently confessed to killing daughter because she was suffering from migraines

Migraines can last several days in adults and come with sensitivity to light, sound, and movement. (James Heilman/Wikimedia Commons)

A pain expert says the triple homicide in Chilliwack, B.C., to which Randy Janzen apparently confessed on Facebook is highlighting the extent of suffering experienced by people with chronic migraine headaches.

When I hear this kind of story I do think about the potential level of helplessness that people feel. — Dr. Brenda Lau, Change Pain

A post on Janzen's Facebook page last week appeared to be a confession that he killed his 19-year-old daughter, Emily, because she was suffering from migraines and depression.

In the post, which the CBC has not been able to confirm came from Janzen himself, he also appeared to confess to killing his wife, Laurel, and his sister, Shelly, to spare them the news of his actions. Janzen later died in a standoff with police.

Randy Janzen poses with his daughter, Emily, on Facebook. (Randy Janzen/Facebook)

"This is such a horrific human tragedy," says Dr. Brenda Lau, co-founder of the Vancouver-based interdisciplinary pain clinic Change Pain.

"There are many facets to the story we don't know yet, but when I hear this kind of story, I do think about the potential level of helplessness that people [living with chronic migraines] feel."

According to the Facebook post, Janzen could apparently no longer watch his daughter suffer from her debilitating migraines, affecting her schooling and social life, and her hopes of becoming an opera singer.

Lau told BC Almanac host Gloria Macarenko that migraines are one of many chronic pain symptoms that can be quite disabling, adding there aren't enough resources out there to help.

Migraines affect millions

Statistics Canada estimates 2.7 million Canadians (about 8.3 per cent of the population) were diagnosed with migraines in 2010-11, but the number of people suffering is likely higher as research indicates many people do not seek professional help.

Migraines are defined as episodic headaches of moderate to severe intensity that come and go.

They typically last four or more hours in adults — although they can last several days in severe cases — and come with sensitivity to light, sound and movement. Often, they are accompanied by nausea and vomiting and sometimes, visual disturbances.

According to Dr. Gordon Mackie, a neurologist specializing in migraines and headache pain, women are twice as likely to experience migraines as men, because they can be caused by hormonal changes during menstrual periods or ovulation.

As debilitating as they can be, in some cases, there are ways of managing some forms of migraine pain, although it requires a long-term approach, and preventing triggers is key.

6 ways to manage migraine pain

  1. Notice triggers. Certain environments and food as well as stress and lack of or irregular sleep can trigger migraines. Notice when and where you experience migraines to try to figure out what's causing them and what aggravates them.
  2. Control your environment. If you can pinpoint what aggravates your migraines, try to control your work and home environment to avoid these. For example, if fluorescent lights are a trigger in your workplace, bring a lamp from home for your desk.
  3. Eat right. Diet can have an effect on the intensity and frequency of headaches. Pay attention to your diet and avoid common food triggers such as coffee or chocolate.
  4. Bio-mechanical approach. Treat neck and back pain that can be a primary problem leading to migraines.
  5. Self-care. Get proper sleep and make sure you stay hydrated through the day.  
  6. Treat it early. Visit your doctor and explain your symptoms. He or she can prescribe appropriate migraine-specific medication to help treat a migraine early and prevent it from getting severe. Common pain medications such as Aspirin or Tylenol are usually not effective against migraines.

To hear Gloria Macarenko's interview with Dr. Gordon Mackie and Dr. Brenda Lau, listen to the audio labelled 'Migraine management'


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