Living with IH
Like any chronic illness, chronic IH can impact both individuals and families physically, financially and emotionally.
If you’ve been diagnosed with IH, it’s important to know that this illness affects everyone differently. An IH diagnosis doesn’t necessarily mean that you will have to stop working or going to school or participating in activities that you enjoy. At the same time, it’s important to take of yourself and recognize that there is much that we don’t know about this illness. The best judge of your abilities is you.
Disability is an issue, especially disability due to loss of vision and/or chronic headache. Some individuals do become too sick to continue working or going to school. Simple, everyday tasks can become overwhelming and a formerly independent person may have to rely on others for help.
However, it’s worth repeating that each person’s experience with IH is different. Some people may experience a remission of their symptoms. For others, chronic IH can be cyclical, a pattern of remission and reoccurrence. And for some, the illness is truly chronic and does not go away. With research, we can learn more about the natural course of chronic IH.
“But You Don’t Look Sick.”
Much of the time, someone with chronic IH may not “look” sick. Physical appearance can often be misleading and is not a good indicator of how well or sick a person with chronic IH may actually be.
It’s also important to remember that signs of chronic IH, such as papilledema, occur within the body, rather than externally and symptoms like a headache can only be felt by the person experiencing it. So, it’s not unusual for patients to feel frustrated when they try to convey their painful circumstances, despite looking “okay” on the outside. It can be equally frustrating for friends and family, who want to understand what is happening to their friend or relative.
Another mystery of chronic IH is that it can be variable. Sometimes, feeling sick occurs in waves. It’s quite possible to feel better for a short period of time, and then, feel worse again or vice-versa. (Sometimes this can happen in a short span of time, i.e. 5-10 minutes.) One hypothesis is that these variations may be due to fluctuations in CSF pressure. A sudden change in behavior or capabilities may be a sign of a change in intracranial pressure.
Chronic illnesses in general and neurological illnesses like stroke have been associated with higher rates of depression. A 2007 study from the University of Toledo in Ohio recently found a high prevalence of depression among women with chronic headache. While there has not been formal research directly linking depression and chronic IH, it’s not uncommon for someone with chronic IH to experience depression.
Changes in sleep patterns, appetite, loss of motivation and self-esteem, feelings of guilt or blame, irritability and anger may be signs of depression. Recognizing depression is the first step to getting help. Counseling, especially with someone who has experience with issues relating to chronic illness, may be helpful. If anti-depressant medication is prescribed, it’s important that all doctors know about any other drugs that you are taking, especially other anti-depressants (such as tricyclic anti-depressants like amitriptyline, which may be used to treat chronic headache pain) that can potentially interact.
The costs of medication, surgery, hospitalizations, doctors’ visits, and other medical expenses related to chronic IH can be significant. Loss of a job or wages as a result of being ill does not only impact income but since many people rely on employer-provided health insurance, it can affect health insurance coverage.
There are government resources to help you find free or low-cost medical care and assist with your bills, including Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Social Security Disability (SSDI). Many drug manufacturers run prescription assistance programs that provide free or discounted medication to those who are uninsured. In addition, certain religious groups also run social service organizations that help members of the same faith. If you belong to a church or religious institution, they often have resources to help parishioners or can direct you to places where help is available. To see a complete list of resources, please click “Resources.”