Aly Raisman Didn't Recognize Her Migraine Symptoms: 'As an Athlete, I Always Powered Through'

"When we're struggling with something, we often diminish how we feel," says the Olympic gold medalist, who urges other women to advocate for their health

Aly Raisman

For years, Aly Raisman blamed her headaches on her hairstyle.

"There were many times I was training or competing when I had my hair up in a really tight bun and I had such sensitivity on my scalp," the Olympic gold medalist tells PEOPLE. "I always thought I was getting a hair headache, but it's actually a symptom of a migraine."

While the 27-year-old had been experiencing migraines since she was a teen, she only recently got a diagnosis.

"For years I've been struggling with nausea, fatigue, light sensitivity and neck pain," says Rasiman, who never associated her symptoms with migraines. "When I was finally diagnosed, it was validating."

To manage her migraines, Raisman worked with Dr. Andrew Blumenfeld, Neurologist and Director, Los Angeles & San Diego Headache Centers and paid consultant for AbbVie.

"In Aly's age group, about 1 in 4 women have migraines," says Dr. Blumenfeld. "It's three times more common in women than men. Nearly half the patients don't realize they have it."

Raisman calls her diagnosis "a relief."

"I didn't know why I was feeling that way for so long," she says. "It's frustrating not to have the answers. Knowledge is power, and being able to advocate for ourselves, being able to find a neurologist to listen to me — I'm very grateful for that."

The gymnast, whose mom also suffered from migraines, says the experience has helped her to listen more carefully to her body.

Aly Raisman

"As an athlete I always powered through," she says. "I didn't take the time to actually care for myself in the way that I should have. If I had an injury I'd try to just keep going, which I really don't do anymore. I've had to un-train myself from doing that because it did not help me."

She urges others to speak to their doctors about uncomfortable symptoms. "There's no harm in asking questions," she says. "It's important to be our own advocate and get those answers. We all deserve to feel good."

To differentiate between a "normal" headache and a migraine, Dr. Blumenfeld says this: "If you're missing activities because of the headache or your productivity is reduced, if a disabling recurrent headache interferes with your activities, you need to think about this diagnosis."

For Raisman, who has partnered with migraine drug Ubrelvy, that means paying attention to her body, being aware of how she is feeling and having Ubrelvy on hand at the start of a migraine attack. To mitigate stress, she also turns to self-care.

"It's really important for people to take time for themselves every day," she says. "When we're struggling with something, we often diminish how we feel."

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