Effective Medical Treatment for Migraines
A migraine is not a headache. It is a neurological condition that affects the central nervous system. Those who do not suffer migraines dismiss them as the whines of malingerers. Those who get them want to put those people in a chair and hit them in the head with a spike so they can see how it feels.
I have been a migraine patient for 25 years (chronic for eight) and gave birth to my first child a year and a half ago. Hands down, a migraine is more painful than labour and birth (including the episiotomy, lateral tearing and forcep delivery). I think it has to with where the pain is located. Migraines occur in our main control centre; our brains. When the pain is elsewhere, I find I can use my brain to distract more effectively (ie. watch tv, read, talk, music). This is not the case with a migraine because everything is controlled by our brains. We are completely debilitated when these hit us. I would echo the above sentiments….give me labour and delivery any day!
Each round of migraine can last for days, and chronic migraine sufferers can experience this pain almost every single day.
The pain is often accompanied by extreme nausea and vomiting, visual and auditory hallucinations, temporary partial or full loss of vision, tunnel vision, a bizarre series of preliminary symptoms known as migraine aura, and days of recovery from all of the above which leave the sufferer exhausted and feeling beaten – only for another migraine to pop up and start the whole series again.
Lewis Carrol, author of Alice in Wonderland had migraines, and the hallucinatory imagery in the book is a pretty good description of the things migraine aura sufferers experience.
There is a migraine aura phenomenon named after Charles Lutwidge Dodgson’s (Lewis Caroll’s) story of myriad transformations: Alice in Wonderland syndrome. The afflicted person perceives herself, or parts of herself, ballooning or diminishing in size. The neurological terms for the peculiar sensations of growing and shrinking are macroscopy and microscopy. Dodgson was a migraineur.
I had my first migraines as a teenager. Several every month, accompanied by blindness and nausea, flashes of light and extreme discomfort similar to a stroke. There was no treatment for migraine when I was growing up except bed rest and a quiet, dark room. If the migraine was bad enough, a trip to the emergency room was required, and then you’d get some tests and a shot to knock you out.
Everyone in my family has migraines, and I assumed this was my lot in life. As a freelance artist with a heavy schedule, I learned to make room for them. I knew I’d lose about four days work a month, and that was that. Just suck it up and deal.
However, 10-15 years ago, I began to experience bizarre neurological symptoms that became debilitating. I wrote about them HERE in this post about Brain Fog. By 2006, I was pretty sure my publishing career was over, because not only did my memory and focus become so bad I could not remember simple things like my middle name, but my migraines went from acute to chronic, and frequency increased to 21 days a month.
The nausea and vomiting was so violent, I busted blood vessels in my eyes and face. My income dropped from a very comfortable upper middle class rate to below poverty level. I was almost completely disabled. As a freelance artist, I had virtually nothing to fall back on but modest royalties, and because I did not want to ruin my future chances of work or to be seen as whining in public, I usually kept my problems to myself.
After years of suffering, my doctor finally found out I had an endocrine issue that was the source of all of my symptoms, including the severity and frequency of the chronic migraines.
Migraines are not necessarily curable, but they are treatable. A number of my pro friends have them, but almost none get professional treatment.
Lifelong migraine sufferers like us often don’t seek help. After decades of stoically dealing with the pain, and being told there is nothing to be done (or being mocked by people who really don’t understand what the hell this is,) we get tired of asking. And, of course, for most of our lives, no medications were available.
However, over the last decade, new treatments were developed. There are also over-the-counter supplements which have been proven to reduce symptoms and frequency of migraines. They work for me, and I strongly encourage anyone who has not consulted a physician to find one who is knowledgeable and sympathetic to your issues. (Not all doctors are.)
The meds may cost, but you know what really costs? Not being able to function and enjoy life. I’ve lost years of livelihood and productivity because of this endocrine condition and the migraines that accompany it. If it costs to get me a medication that enables me to triple my income, then boy howdy, hand that shit over.
Almost every creator I know who has migraines told me the reason they feared asking a doctor is because they thought they would be subjected to expensive and painful tests. Not so. Medical history and symptoms should suffice. No one in my family who has treatment for migraines had to get a CAT scan or spinal tap. I suppose I was particularly easy to diagnose since I had a migraine in the doctor’s office a few year’s back and had to crawl to the toilet to puke. Then they gave me a shot in my ass and put me in my very own room to sleep it off.
So, it was easy to tell I had a migraine, see.
The medication you will probably get is Maxalt or its generic equivalent Rizotriptan.
All hail this stuff.
It’s tricky to gauge exactly how to take it and how it will work for you at first, because you have to take it at the onset of a migraine: within the first two hours. And then, if your migraine isn’t knocked out within about two hours, you take two more pills.
Sounds easy, but it takes an awareness of what is going on with you, and it takes time to get used to what your body is telling you. You’ll question yourself: is this a real migraine coming on, or is this just me having a bad day? These pills are expensive! Maybe I should wait!
After some months of using it, and trying to figure out how to get it to work, driving my insurance company crazy because I’d use three month’s of the prescription in a week, the migraines have lessened in severity and frequency. Two years after first getting them, I now have about 4 migraines a month instead of a migraine every couple of days, and can usually deal with them by taking an Advil migraine pill instead of my prescription. This can vary: I’ve noticed a few times a year, I cycle back to frequent migraines for a few weeks, which can be quite severe, then they scale back again. God knows why.
Overall, they just aren’t as bad as they used to be. I can even work with a migraine, whereas before, I was just completely knocked over when I got one. And since there is a generic equivalent of Maxalt available now, I no longer pay hundreds a month, I co- pay my insurance $40 for a prescription that can last 3 months.
Your doctor may also decide to put you on a beta blocker or other preventative course of action: I chose not to, because I believe in avoiding taking any more medicine than I absolutely have to, and as my doctor predicted, over time and with careful use of the Maxalt, my migraines decreased. If they hadn’t, I’d gladly use that beta blocker.
For many women, migraines disappear with menopause, and I just can’t wait for my plumbing to stop working to find out. For the 10-15 years before menopause, many women may experience migraines, often for the first time in their lives. Don’t suffer: get treatment.
A neurologist also suggested I take L-Tryptophan, which is an over the counter supplement which increases your serotonin levels. People who get frequent migraines often have lower levels of serotonin. Serotonin is your happy juice: it’s what makes you feel good. I don’t know if being in constant pain drains your serotonin, or if not having enough serotonin causes migraines. Whatever. I take a supplement 3 times a day and find that it increases my mood, alertness, and the accompanying decrease in migraine activity is very welcome as well.
There are many different migraine triggers for different people. One of the most annoying things about migraines is the stuff people throw at you that they are certain causes them: food, allergies, lights, stress, blah blah blah.
Scientists believe migraines are similar to epileptic seizures and share a genetic trigger. And different people get migraines from different sources. So, it is not helpful to lecture someone who gets them on, say, doing more yoga, or eating less chocolate. Yoga never did a thing for my migraines and I can’t manage downward facing dog when I am puking. The only thing we really know about migraines is that they hurt like hell, and what works for one person may not work for the next.
But what really REALLY won’t work is suffering through them when there is medical treatment that may help you. Please talk to your doctor. I would never have gotten treatment if my brother didn’t first: his doctor prescribed Maxalt and the miraculous results encouraged me to give it a try as well. I don’t leave my house without a Maxalt pill in my purse.
To add to the weirdness of my neurological life, I also have a condition known as synaesthesia. Or, more precisely had this condition.
When my brain fog symptoms worsened and became chronic, I noticed my synaesthesia began to fade. It was almost completely gone as of about two years ago. I read that this can happen when something changes in your brain, chemical or brain injury, and it reroutes its functions. I see little bits of floaty color once in awhile, but not with the intensity I used to.
I don’t really miss the synaesthesia experience. I grew up thinking everybody had it, was surprised to learn they didn’t, and couldn’t understand why people didn’t have the same reactions to colors I did. I now tend to wear more colors than I used to because my emotional reaction to color is gone. I assumed that everyone saw emotions as color, and that is why they equated anger with red and sadness with blue. I was really surprised when they didn’t. In fact, I think the reason I worked in black and white most of my life is to avoid the issue of emotion and color. I know some people embrace it in their work, but I never did. Now that it has faded, I use more color in my work and in my life. Funny, hunh? Anyway, for me, anger was black, red and white splotches. It kind of looked like Frank Miller’s art, actually.
There are a number of books on Amazon that I recommend, especially The Migraine Brain by Carolyn Bernstein MD.