I’ve waited a whopping 4 days to write this post. Reason being, I decided I needed to wait until I was suffering from a migraine in order to tell you about living life with chronic headache pain. I’ve dealt with migraines since I was a little girl and I promise you it isn’t just about having a bad headache. Aspects like pain relief, preventative measures and drug side effects are all things to consider when suffering from chronic migraine.
A Step by Step Explanation of Chronic Migraine Pain
As I type I’m in an aura phase. My right eye feels like it must have a spider web over it which is causing a slight vision issue. It actually took me 30 years to work out that I had auras at all. Recently I began getting a migraine while at Disney World at night. I mentioned to a friend that it seemed each of the lightbulbs above our heads had a blurry halo. She told me that this was most likely an aura and wondered why I hadn’t figured this out before. A proverbial light went on in my head and I thought “An aura, I often feel like there is a spider web in my vision or that my eyelashes are wet before I get a migraine.”
At this point I have a dull pain in the area where my head and neck come together. This pain wouldn’t keep me down alone but it’s rarely my only symptom. I’m also feeling a throbbing pain my jaw and even in my back teeth. Sounds pretty awful right? That’s just the beginning.
My temple is the sweet spot when it comes to actually making me throw up, which happens more often than I’d like to admit. But that isn’t the worst of it, when it comes to knee buckling pain you need to hear about my eyebrows. Where my nose and my eyebrow meet shoots the most stabbing of pain. Anywhere else along my eyebrow is awful too. Once you see me pinching and pushing at my eyebrows you’ll know it’s time for bed.
Treating a migraine headache is probably worse than suffering from migraine. Maybe that’s a poor description of what I’m trying to convey. Treating migraine can be difficult and down right impossible for some people. As mentioned above I’ve had migraines for nearly 32 years and in that time I’ve tried no less than a dozen drugs none of which has ever really helped. Here is a list of recent “rescue” migraine medication trials I’ve put myself through and how they made me feel. We call them rescue because they are used after you get a migraine and need to relieve the pain.
Migraine Rescue Drugs
Imitrex (both pill form and injection): This is one of the most popular migraine medications. It made me feel disgusting. I felt hot and nauseous. I gave this one a try twice in my life. Once in my early 20’s and more recently.
Relpax: Relpax wasn’t awful. It was however expensive. That’s another problem with treating a migraine, your insurance carrier won’t always agree with your drug of choice. Relpax worked for me more than once. At other times it did nothing.
Maxalt: This did nothing. It’s an odd medication that comes in a Tums like form, however when you lay it on your tongue it immediately melts into a paste. Not fizzy like a Tum, but instead a soft paste.
Zomig: The way I take Zomig is via nose inhaler. This is my current prescription migraine rescue drug of choice. It’s not an inexpensive choice, but I choose to use it sparingly. And as always, sometimes it just won’t work.
Frova: I’m not sure if this would be an all the time occurance, but the two times I took Frova my migraine went away quickly. It was a miracle drug. Frova is especially useful for women with menstrual migraine. However, I’d have to sell my house, cars and kids to afford it. The price tag is shocking.
The drugs mentioned above are known as Triptans. A Triptan affects a certain natural substance (serotonin) that causes narrowing of blood vessels in the brain. It may also relieve pain by affecting certain nerves in the brain.
A Popular Over the Counter Migraine Pain Relief
When you have a migraine you know not to bother with OTC drugs. A Tylenol isn’t going to make a migraine go away.
But there is one exception to this rule and it’s the best exception a large population of migraine patients will agree to. Taking Goody’s Powder or BC Powder or Excedrin Migraine (though the previous two are better due to their powder which works more quickly) with a heavily caffeinated beverage seems to relieve migraine pain.
Much to my neurologist’s upset she did admit that while this was a sure fire way to ruin your stomach, a Goody’s Powder with a Red Bull can bring quick migraine relief. I recommend going to sleep immediately after if possible.
Migraine Preventative Drugs
There are also some medications you can take to prevent migraines altogether. For many years I took the drug Topamax which is an anticonvulsant. It’s main purpose is to treat epilepsy but it also works for fending off migraine. At first it made my hands and feet tingle and buzz which is common, but after the first two months my migraines were next to gone. I went from having at least 5 migraines a month to one, maybe. Admittedly if I did get a migraine it was much worse than usual but my life began to become normal.
Topamax has an ugly nickname associated with it called Dope-A-Max. The reason is that Topamax has been known to impair cognitive abilities. It took over two years to really notice the changes but first I started to “lose words”. Sometimes I just couldn’t find the word I wanted to use.
After that I became mentally sluggish. I would just want to sit and stare and everyday questions became hard to answer. At this point my neurologist became worried and sent me for the test people with Alzheimers take. At that point everything looked good.
Another two years and I was even more mentally sluggish than before. I didn’t put two and two together, I just thought I was depressed and tired. I couldn’t remember things from moment to moment. I couldn’t pull up responses for questions everyone would know the answer. It’s hard to explain, but it wasn’t so much that the question was hard to answer (though it was) but it took a bit for me to work out that I needed to answer the question.
Things only got worse, my physical abilities were being dampened. My husband noticed it when we went on vacation, away from our normal surroundings. I couldn’t hold anything in my hand. I would teeter a lot because my balance was off.
The breaking point was when I stopped being able to work out everyday tasks. Remembering how to use a credit card machine or how to pump gas was next to impossible. Again, it wasn’t that I couldn’t walk up to the pump and perform the physical act of getting gas. It was that the machine in front of me suddenly made zero sense. What numbers do they want, my phone number or my date of birth (it was neither, they wanted my PIN)? Which button do I push? My neurologist was happy to take me off the drug and change me to something else.
I’m now on a beta-blocker drug called Propranolol which keeps blood pressure down and has the potential to prevent migraines. I know that at times I’ll get so stressed so quickly my head nearly explodes. This medication is supposed to help with that. If you have less than acceptable blood pressure levels this drug would not be for you. I am supposed to keep an eye out for dizziness. So far (but it’s been one month) I’ve had two migraines. I hope this drug kicks in soon or else I’ll be missing Topamax. Because keeping migraine pain at bay is often worth any side effects.
Medicine Free Migraine Relief and Preventative
There are a few things I do to help get me through my life with as little headache pain as possible. I visit a chiropractor so she can align my spine properly. I have a nearly straight cervical spine and she is slowly fixing that.
I also see an acupuncturist for stress relief. I can’t tell you exactly what she does, but I know it helps.
I use products like Tiger Balm to rub on my temples, eyebrows and any other painful area that needs cooling relief. I have a cool gel pillow cover made of heat leeching gel I use when necessary. It takes your body heat and converts it to a nice icy chill. Often migraines make you feel hot and sweaty so it is a nice item to have on hand.
I live by hot pulsating showers. I have a shower head with a very strong pulse setting and I’ll let it work on my neck or even my temple and then go straight to bed.
All of these medicine free migraine relief and preventative recommendations are something you might consider trying.
Doctors and Hospitals
I once visited the emergency room because of a migraine. It wasn’t the pain but my hands and feet went numb and I thought I might be having a stroke. I was admitted into the hospital for a week. For an entire week doctors doped me up on Dilaudid and other narcotics which still did nothing to stop the migraine pain. I was put through test after test. On day 5 I still had the same migraine. They finally brought in a neurologist who tried to treat my headache with the respect it deserved. After I was released I was told to find a neurologist immediately and so I did. Whether you make an appointment with a neurologist (most won’t see headache sufferers) or a chronic head ache pain doctor I recommend you do it soon. I found visiting the emergency room to be pointless and expensive. They didn’t have the means to treat migraine pain. However you need to make that call for yourself.
As I’ve repeated many times throughout this story, living with migraine pain or chronic headache pain ruins lives. I missed many important events in my life because of having a migraine. I always knew I’d be down for at least two days of any vacation because travel is stressful which gives me a headache. Holding a job can be difficult, driving a car, keeping appointments. So many of life’s events revolve around being well and migraine pain comes on fast and out of nowhere.
Do you suffer from migraine or chronic head ache pain? If so how do you handle pain relief? Do you take any preventative measures?
*Special thanks to Flickr Common Commons for assorted pictures above. ATM (William Grootonk), Statue (Quinn Dombrowski)