This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2005, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
What do University of Utah basketball star Andrew Bogut and Napoleon Bonaparte have in common? (Hint: It's not their height.)
Both have conquered opponents while coping with migraine disease, a disorder so debilitating the World Health Organization wants it labeled a major public health threat.
Bogut is possibly the best college basketball player in the country, and his "empire" includes the upcoming NCAA tournament. Any media attention he receives is bound to raise his profile among NBA scouts - as well as male migraine sufferers.
At least that's the hope of Susan Baggaley, a nurse practitioner at the U. of U. Department of Neurology Headache Clinic. Of the 28 million Americans who get migraines, 21 million are female. That, says Baggaley, leads many to view the condition as a complaint, not a brain disease.
"Everyone thinks it is a woman's disease, a weakness," Baggaley says. "Mr. Bogut brings a certain validity, especially for young boys who can go years without getting proper treatment."
During a migraine, the blood vessels on the surface of the brain swell, brought on by changes in the brain's chemistry, such as the release of potassium and amino acids or a lack of serotonin. The disease is considered hereditary - Bogut's grandmother has it - and symptoms go beyond beastly headaches to include nausea, vomiting, auras (light spots), sensitivity to light and sound, numbness and difficulty talking.
For Bogut, it usually starts with a loss of vision.
"I can't hardly see out of my left eye. And my body just - the whole left side will go numb, so I'm really only feeling with half my body," he says. "Then I have to get in a dark room, and the migraine will start. Then, it's just like someone's hitting a hammer on my head, basically."
Migraines can be triggered by fatigue and stress, so it's no wonder Bogut got a big one in the middle of last week's Mountain West Conference tournament.
They started when he was about 11, Bogut says, and occur every four or five months, although the most recent attack came just 37 days after the last - a monster migraine that had him throwing up for hours and almost kept him out of the BYU game.
It is not unusual for a single migraine to last several days, or even weeks, but Bogut's are usually gone in a day, he says, "Basically, till I fall asleep or until I spew up."
Bogut hasn't had much luck with medication. "A lot of the times, it's too late," he says. "Your body and your immune system just shut down and the medication doesn't really work."
But treatment has come a long way since Napoleon's day when blood-letting was the cure du jour. As a reminder, Fred Freitag has a poster on his wall of a Peruvian skull with three holes in it. Freitag is the associate director of the Diamond Headache Clinic in Chicago and a former migraine sufferer himself.
During the past 10 years, several vascular and serotonin-regulating drugs have proved effective for on-the-spot treatment of symptoms. And in May, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved the use of Topamax, an anti-epileptic drug, in reducing the frequency of migraines.
Pharmaceutical companies are getting more savvy at marketing their drugs, too. Pfizer, maker of Relpax, recently published a children's book called, Mama Lion's Migraine, a 13-page pamphlet that emphasizes chemistry, not kids, are to blame for migraines.
Still, Freitag says, migraines remain the No. 1 cause of disability claims among Americans with chronic pain.
"We've come a long way in teaching people how disabling these attacks can be," Freitag says. "That being said, there are still a lot of people who don't believe a migraine is anything more than a two-aspirin headache."
Ute fans know better. Safety Morgan Scalley was occasionally sidelined by the condition during his college football career. And the team lost a kick-returner to migraines 10 years ago when Cal Beck, freshman hero of the 1994 BYU game and Freedom Bowl, gave up the sport.
Freitag says athletes and celebrities often are reluctant to talk about their affliction. "If they do, they may not get that movie role or that next contract extension," he says.
That's why Bogut's honesty is so refreshing.
Migraine sufferers "see these people come out and play after having an attack," Freitag says. "It gives them tremendous hope."
And Bogut shouldn't worry too much about scaring NBA scouts or coaches.
While Napoleon couldn't dunk a basketball, there are plenty of migraine sufferers who can, including Scottie Pippin, Steve Francis, Shandon Anderson, Raul Lopez and the most prolific scorer in NBA history, which brings to mind another trivia question:
What do Andrew Bogut and Kareem Abdul-Jabar have in common? (Hint: It's more than migraines.)
Tribune reporter Michael C. Lewis contributed to this story.
What would Johnny Damon do?
Celebrities can increase disease awareness, which is why the National Headache Foundation keeps tabs on those who have migraines. Damon, the Red Sox center fielder, started getting migraines after an on-field collision with a teammate in 2003. Other famous people with migraines:
Vincent Van Gogh, Claude Monet, Julius Caesar, Ulysses S. Grant, Robert E. Lee, Virginia Wolfe, Lewis Carroll, Mary Todd Lincoln, Elvis Presley, Monica Seles, Terrell Davis, Loretta Lynn, President Kennedy and Mike Leavitt, former Utah governor and current Secretary of Health and Human Services.
Sources: The Salt Lake Tribune, National Headache Foundation, http://www.migraines.org.