On some days, the attack hits her completely unexpectedly, in the middle of a university seminar.

Then Isabelle suddenly feels extreme pain that bores like a screw behind her right eye.

On other days the pain slowly swells.

It gets bigger by the hour until it is finally unbearable.

And pain medication, which must not be taken more than ten days a month, does not always help.

The 26-year-old is studying German language and literature for her Masters in Giessen - and she has chronic migraines: a complex neurological disease.

The World Health Organization has sorted them into the category of those diseases that are one of the most important obstacles in everyday life for those affected.

During her bachelor's degree, Isabelle struggled with pain for up to 22 days a month.

In addition, there were the side effects: for example sensitivity to light and noise or nausea.

The cause of the disease is a genetic stimulus processing disorder: The nervous system then reacts particularly sensitively to stimuli such as noise, light or stress.

Many university employees affected

Around 1.8 of the 2.8 million students in Germany suffer from a headache. This was the result of a survey that the Center for Research and Diagnostics for Implants, Inflammation and Pain (ZIES) carried out in 2018 for its pilot project “Head high - Competent prevention of headaches and migraines at the university”. In addition to tension-type headache, the most common headache disorders also include migraines. It is not known how many students suffer from chronic migraines, a particularly debilitating form of the disease. However, more than two thirds of the affected female students and more than half of the affected students showed migraine symptoms in the survey.

Isabelle is always afraid of encountering incomprehension among lecturers.

She already knows this from her school days: “My teachers and classmates accused me of only simulating,” she says.

Although so many students suffer from migraines, the topic rarely occurs in the university advice centers for students with disabilities and chronic illnesses, says Karin Frisch.

The managing director of ZIES is a co-initiator of "KopfHoch".

The project is not only aimed at students, but also at university employees.

“It is important that employees at the university are informed about the disease and recognize the level of suffering behind it,” says Frisch.

Many employees are also affected by migraines themselves.

Tremendous psychological stress

Because there are no abnormalities in the X-rays or in the blood values, migraines are often not recognized as an independent disease. “Migraine sufferers cannot prove their disability”, writes Hartmut Göbel from the pain clinic in Kiel in his book “Successful against headaches and migraines”. Those affected are therefore often confronted with prejudices: “It's just a headache” is a sentence that many migraine sufferers report. "Those affected are often given the wrong advice and receive a signal that their illness is psychological," explains Frisch.

Jennifer also experienced this lack of acceptance. The 23-year-old studied business administration at a private university. In order to protect her privacy, she does not want to be called by her real name. In addition to chronic migraines, Jennifer has had chronic tension headaches for a number of years. In addition to the migraine, there is an aura - these are perceptual and visual problems that occur shortly before the actual migraine attack. Jennifer then gets nauseous, everything blurs in front of her eyes and small black dots move from one side to the other.

There is not a day that she is not in pain, says Jennifer.

During her studies, she often had problems concentrating on 90-minute lectures.

“We often went to university from morning to evening, so you have to keep your head on it all the time.

And if I fixate on my sheet of paper or the blackboard for a bit longer, I get severe pain behind the eye, ”she says.

Jennifer then had to leave the room, sit on a bench and close her eyes to ease the pain.

So she kept missing out on material.

In order not to fail exams because of this, Jennifer studied even when she was in severe pain.

"That was an enormous psychological burden, I'm already constantly exhausted from the migraines," she says.

Keywords: attack, pain, students, migraines, frisch.jennifer, swells.it, studies, isabelle, stimulus processing disorder, pain medication, life, work, diseases, center for research, result