July 20, 2011— -- As news of Rep. Michele Bachmann's severe migraines hit the headlines this week, The Daily Caller website reported that the Minnesota Republican has -- to her staff -- "implausibly blamed the headaches on uncomfortable high-heel shoes."
So, can wearing high-heels trigger debilitating migraines?
Dr. Lucas Bachmann, a medical resident at University of Connecticut and the congresswoman's son, told the New York Times that his mother had noticed a connection between the headaches and her wearing high-heel shoes.
"Different things do trigger migraines, and it's not easy to automatically discount that," said Dr. Joel Saper, founder and director of the Michigan Headache and Neurological Institute in Ann Arbor. "But it could be more likely that she wears heels at times when she has a particularly important or busy encounter that may cause stress."
Bachmann tried to ease the worries of a crowd in Aiken, S.C., Tuesday, assuring those assembled that she could control her migraines with medication, and they would not impede her ability to serve as president, playing down reports that the migraines have prevented her from doing her job.
Her spokeswoman told ABC News Tuesday that the migraines have not interfered with her presidential campaign or her ability to serve as a member of Congress. She denied reports that Bachmann's migraines had "incapacitated" her in the past.
"Twelve percent of Americans suffer from migraines, so if you're saying that Americans who suffer from migraines can't do their jobs, then I think you're going to run into problems," said Alice Stewart, a spokeswoman for the Minnesota congresswoman.
But doctors who specialize in treating migraines say that while they can't speak for Bachmann, many migraine sufferers experience headaches that can incapacitate them.
"The World Health Organization has ranked migraines in its top 20 incapacitating disorders during an attack," said Dr. Jan Brandes, assistant clinical professor in the department of neurology at Vanderbilt University. "They can be as incapacitated as someone who suffers from quadriplegia."
Brandes says about 10 percent of migraine sufferers experience debilitating headaches, but some studies put the number at 50 to 80 percent. Women are three times more likely to suffer from migraines than men.
"Two to three days of debilitation is not unusual," said Saper. "You have not only the pain, but you have nausea, sometimes vomiting, a visual aura and other neurological disturbances as well as a mental fog that can be caused by the pain or the headache itself.
"We grade these things from one to five," Saper said. "If it's a very severe four or five, some people can't get out of bed. They're dizzy or they vomit, and they're just in bad shape."
Medications can also affect the ability to function, because they often have a sedative effect or cause nausea while making the pain go away.
People experiencing severe migraines might also not be able to think clearly and be unable to move, because any movement at all can exacerbate the pain.
"Migraine is a complex neurological disorder, and I fully understand why people with migraine and even doctors make associations all the time, which are very interesting and need further study to prove whether they are valid or not," said Dr. Allan Purdy, professor of neurology at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia.
"In neurology," he continued, "we have to be very careful to ensure balance but still be open-minded to all ideas, as we really to date do not know the exact cause of migraine however we are getting there with better and new science every day."
ABC News' Brian Ross, Matthew Jaffe and Z. Byron Wolf contributed reporting.