Late Enough I Ask Advice Button

I Ask: How Do You Treat Your Migraine?

Late Enough I Ask Advice ButtonI had a migraine last night so I stayed in and went to bed. I slept 10 hours and during this, I dreamed. I dreamed that I went to the book group I was supposed to attend Wednesday night and I couldn’t concentrate and I wasn’t very nice because my head hurt so much during the dream. I woke up thinking: I did the right thing going to bed. Thanks brain.

I’m back to getting migraines at least once a week off the Topamax. I had to come off it in December after being on it just over a year because I went from the slightly forgetful side effect to memory blackouts. Scott would tell me we had a conversations and I would have no recollection of it at all. The first time I thought it was just marriage confusion, but it happened enough to scare me into seeing a doctor who wanted to do all this crazy testing but I gently suggested we try going off the drug that most people can’t tolerate because it affects their memory. She agreed, and the large gaps stopped although sometimes I wonder if I’ll ever be 100% in the memory department again. Words still come a little slower than I remember. Is going from 34 to 35 years old that bad?

Without the preventative, sometimes I can manage my migraines with over-the-counter remedies and sometimes I’m stuck in the fog of just trying to get done what I must until I can get into bed.  I used to be able to use Imitrex to stop the migraines from worsening, but it once made a headache so bad I thought I would pass out so I’m too scared to use it anymore and my doctor agrees. I also can’t use beta blockers as a preventative because my blood pressure and heart can’t handle them — I actually would pass out, which doesn’t seem better except when my headache is at its peak.

My migraines are usually mid-week, which makes me wonder if I get less and less sleep on the weekdays (and more and more stress?) until I trigger a migraine. I don’t think my eating pattern changes much on the weekdays versus the weekends so I don’t think it’s a food trigger. I know allergies trigger my migraines and I can feel the post-nasal drip today. I will be starting with Claritin or Allegra to see if that helps (the latter was meh in the past and the former I haven’t tried yet). Zyrtec made me sleep for 12 hours and act like a zombie for the next 5. However, it’s not just allergies since at the most, I get one less migraine in the cold months.

Today, my muscles are all tense in the there-beneath-the-skin-and-eye, post-migraine stress. Will it come back? Will it take over? When will it completely go away? There’s a young part of me that worries I will always have this headache. This is it – the best it gets. But I’ve had migraines since I was five, albeit more frequently now, so I know the headache will release me soon enough.

In the last year, doctors and friends have suggested seeing a neurologist, but I have been reticent probably because I’ve never had to deal with specialists until all my stomach issues. Then I spent last year with testing and specialists and hospitals. I’m not ready to start again.  I’ve also irrationally and unfairly decided neurologists won’t be able to help me. I dislike daily medications and the possible futility of trying anything besides what sometimes works is overwhelming.

I ask: Do you get migraines? What’s worked or hasn’t worked for you?

Alex Iwashyna

Alex Iwashyna went from a B.A. in philosophy to an M.D. to a SAHM, poet and writer by 30. She spends most of her writing time on, a humor blog (except when it's serious) about her husband fighting zombies, awkward attempts at friendship, and dancing like everyone is watching. She also has a soft spot for culture, politics, and rude Southern people who offend her Yankee sensibilities. She parents 2 elementary-aged children, 1 foster baby, 3 cats, and 1 puppy, who are all Southern but not rude. Yet.

23 thoughts to “I Ask: How Do You Treat Your Migraine?”

  1. I get them and they are the worst. I’ve got them since I was a kid usually when I skipped a meal or went from school to activities and was exhausted. Sleep solved those. Then as an adult allergies started and I had to take Claritin or Zyrtec everyday with sudafed every 4-6 hours. That has helped but sometimes I forget or it’s just a bad day. It won’t go away even if I sleep! I have started taking a sudafed and drinking a cup or two of coffee. It’s kinda nuts at 3am but if I can’t sleep bc of the pounding headache might as well not sleep bc of caffeine but get rid of the pain. I drink coffee everyday and live naps so usually I can get back to sleep for an hour or two before work.

    So glad you posted this. I’ve been wondering if I should go to the dr but am leary of the big time medication. Looking forward to reading other responses! Damn headaches!

    1. And I don’t think it’s weird to drink caffeine at 3am because I totally get it — sometimes my head hurts so much I can’t even lay down. In fact and I don’t know if this happens to you but sometimes the day/headache is so bad even getting medication out of the cabinet to help seems too hard!

  2. I don’t get staggeringly bad ones but my first move when a headache starts to crank down is three Advil and two Tylenol (which incidentally is what my med professor aunt told me to take instead of prescription RX when I had my wisdom teeth out), something to eat/drink, and a hot shower focused on the top of my head. It’s not a very sociable cure but it’s worked. If I’m lucky, it keeps me from throwing up.

  3. I have had migraines for decades, they started as Menstrual migraines in my 20’s and would happen right after I took my last BC pill and waited for my period.
    Infertility brought a new category to them, but until I got PG (through IVF) went on bed rest and finally had my twins they had always been the “awful pain, light and noise sensitive” kind.

    2 weeks after my sons were born, I thought I was having a stroke, my arms were tingling and numb, I had terrible vertigo and an ache (not necessarily pain) all over my body. I couldn’t put two thoughts together and I struggled to “think”

    The 9 months after that 2am drive to the ER and me scared out of my mind were full of neurologists, meds (try this one, no that about this one? ) MRIs and migraine journals.

    I was diagnosed with Complex (complicated) migraines and fibromyalgia . The fibro will sometimes bring on a migraine. My migraines are no longer the ones that consist of blinding pain, rather my sides go numb and tingle , and they are absolutely tied to my hormonal cycle and the amount of sleep I am getting. (I can tell you about that if you want to talk off the comments) However, I also have food triggers that it took a while to figure out (Dairy( A huge one for me) , cinnamon, wine of ANY kind, are just a few)

    I’ve tried Imitrex, the Topamax and another I can’t remember for very short periods of time. For me when i feel a migraine coming on I take 3 Aleve and then I’ll reach for a half a xanax if it’s not helping. It helps with the knot in my neck and normally makes me sleepy. Sleep, is for me, the best remedy.

    I’m sorry your head hurts so much. I hope you can find something that helps. That losing words or not being able to find words happens to me all the time too

  4. I do not get them too often, but had a really really bad one about 5 years ago. Was laying on the bathroom floor vomiting…could not move it hurt so bad. I thought my head was going to explode. I called my dad and he came and picked me up and took me to ER. It was so horrible. They hooked me up to an IV drip of some sort and it got rid of it fairly quickly.

    The nurse told me as soon as I started to get a headache….to take 3 ibuprofen right away. I have done that the last five years…and have not had a bad one again. But again…I dont get them that often…so the 3 ibuprofen right away works fine for me.
    I feel so bad for those who get them often…that was so horrible!

  5. Ugh, I’m so sorry you have to go through the pain these cause, and so frequently! I can’t imagine. I only get them a couple of times a year, but they are so bad, absolutely incapacitating — it really horrifies me to think of someone suffering through them as often as you do. My go-tos are caffeine and cold, usually in the form of the strongest coffee I can stand and ice packs. I recently read somewhere that sticking your head in the freezer and taking deep breaths can help (seriously!).

    Unfortunately, it seems as though at least one of our children has inherited the tendency to get migraines. Over the last year Donovan started complaining of bad headaches more and more frequently. The school started calling us to come get her because the ice pack they’d give her wasn’t relieving her pain. Then, just before Christmas, she had two episodes of vomiting with the headaches, and she also complained of some dizziness. You went to medical school; you can imagine how worried and terrified we were. A subsequent MRI showed nothing of concern, thank God, but she still gets them fairly often, and good grief, she is only six years old. I didn’t even realize children that young COULD get headaches. Her new ped is suggesting that perhaps we see a pediatric neurologist and that an antihistamine might help.

    Good luck, Alex. I hope you find relief!

    1. PS — The bit about being slow to find your words? I think at least some of that is having a busy life and getting older. I find myself tripping over my words all the time, searching to find the most common phrases that always seem to be right on the tip of my tongue. And I am so forgetful these days, it’s ridiculous. I used to pride myself on how organized and on top of things I was…not anymore. The husband says it’s because I am constantly being distracted and interrupted by the needs of three kids and everything else life throws at you. Maybe he’s right, but whatever the reason, some days I feel utterly senile, so hey, at least it’s not just you.

  6. Mrs Chamberlain 1.0 suffered with migraines a the got hooked on demerol so I’m totally anti-drug therapy. A lot of stuff that works for AAD works for migraines. COFFEE. It opens the blood vessels and eases the pain. AVOID RED FOODS. Even if you don’t think you have an allergy.The dark room for about an hour (get a mask) works. Finally a weird one that I didn’t believe until I saw it. Have someone press on your temples. Both sides at once for about a minute. It gives you relief but it will come back in a little while. This helps if you can get asleep while it’s working.

  7. I was told years ago that migraines were a symptom of stresses that you could no longer handle. I do know that after I got divorced my migraines stopped. It was later that I realized there was a lot of emotional abuse in my marriage. I’m not suggesting divorce, believe me. If your’s are coming mid-week, and a good night’s sleep seems to help it may be that you are stressed. Maybe you are not getting enough sleep?

    How’s the lenten study coming? xoxog

    1. I’m probably not getting enough sleep and I do think stress affects it. I wonder what it is about mid-week that is stressful for me? I’ll need to ponder. Although I’m sorry about your divorce, as they are hard even when they’re right, I’m glad that you are free from the abuse (and migraines!).

      The lenten packet you sent is AMAZING! (THANK YOU!) but the family study is going slower than I had envisioned with my sister’s wedding and N’s birthday party falling in the middle of it this year. I’m planning to get back on track today and hold on through Holy Week.

  8. I get migraines. Taking Niacin every day has helped lessen the severity over the years. Alternating ice and heating pads sometimes helps. I have seen a neurologist, just to make sure nothing was wrong in my brain. Otherwise, I just try to move through the pain.

  9. Hi – I don’t think I’ve ever commented here before. Cool!

    I’ve had migraines for years, but since turning 40, they got a lot worse, and started to be hormone-triggered. Loads of fun.

    Over the winter, I asked my regular doctor for a migraine prescription, and she gave me one for Imitrex, which usually didn’t work, or would leave me completely zonked afterwards. So, I went to see a neurologist, who came up with a specific plan of attack for me. Several different options of different meds to take in different combinations. Working wonderfully so far. I go back to see her next week.

    I’d recommend it. (And, for the record, I’ve only ever seen a GI specialist for my issues, too. This was nice, it was mostly talking!)

  10. I get them all of the time. I try not to take meds too often. If its really bad I take ibuprofen and it makes is a little better. I normally just have to wait it out. They can last 3 days sometimes. Sleep normally makes it worse.

  11. Aww, migraines are the worst! I get them too — just started a handful of years ago. I would definitely recommend checking in with a neurologist. Mine is a super grumpy old man, but he is super-smart and has all the wisdom and good strategies. I use Treximet + Zofran, which sounds like it wouldn’t work for you after your Imitrex scare, but I also need/use cold compresses, quiet/dark rooms, naps, and hydrating. I don’t know if it’s the headache or the meds that makes me super-thirsty, but drinking ALL the water helps a lot. Hugs, love, and much empathy!

  12. I swear by these Be Koool gel pads. Despite the dorky name, they are essential whenever I get a headache. You peel the backing off one and stick it to your forehead. It has a gel in there that then gets really cold and acts to soothe the pain while you wait for meds or whatever else to kick in (or just ride out a fever or headache).

    It’s like an ice pack on your head without the brain freeze or having to hold it in place. Each one lasts for a few hours. I often go to sleep with one on when a headache hits. When you remove it, there is no sticky residue left behind. I buy them in bulk and keep some in my nightstand drawer for when a migraine hits.

  13. Lots of publicity about peppermint essential oil combined with coconut or almond oil, supposed to relieve a migraine pretty quickly.

  14. I will start by saying I haven’t read all the other comments so I apologize if I’m repeating.

    I’m so sorry you’re dealing with this. It’s the WORST. Terrifying and painful and sickening in all the most awful ways. I sympathize, thought I can’t fully empathize since I don’t get them quite as often.

    I have a friend who was getting them weekly, and has found great help in acupuncture and electrolyte water. Both earn some degree of skepticism from me, but at this point I don’t count anything out. I’ve started drinking smartwater on occasion and have been toying more seriously with acupuncture.

    For me, it seems to be a combination of dehydration (hello chugging ANY water, smart or dumb) and fatigue (as the mother of a 2yo and 4yo that is hard to control at times) along with stress (also often difficult to master). When I get the first hint of an aura (my first aura is visual) I pop an excedrine migraine (if it’s earlier in the day) or I’ve also started doing a couple Advil PM if it’s closer to evening, and I just want to sleep. I go straight to bed and lie there moaning and writhing till I have to puke – or try to puke – and then repeat the cycle.

    Recently I tried meditating through a moderate one. I lay in bed repeating a mantra to myself and it seemed ot take me out of the pain and nausea, though it didn’t make it go away, so I still wasn’t productive or anything. The next one I got I tried the same, but my brain was so addled I couldn’t be sure if the words I was thinking were actual words or gibberish and the terror of that was distracting.

    I have yet to try any prescription remedies. My migraines are intense but relatively infrequent (maybe 4-6 per year – knock on wood) but my doctor mentioned once that they increase in frequency and intensity as women near 40 and then tend to back off a bit. I’m the same age as you and find this both alarming and comforting. Five more years?!?! I can handle five more years… I guess…

    Good Luck!! Let us know how it goes.

    1. It sounds like we have very similar triggers. Staying hydrated is something I’m terrible at and I think does contribute more than Id like to admit. And I start taking Claritin for allergies since I wrote the post (which reminds me, I need to go take today’s) and that has been working really well so far. I hope it’s enough to spread them out more and offset the ones I don’t have as much control over (stress and sleep — although I’m working on those too!)

  15. I get migraines that are not typical. I usually get a very bad aura, pressure headache with light and noise sensitivity. The migraine hangover is awful. I am not sure why, but they were frequent 1-2 a month for the past few years and are now seldom occurances. They started in high school and got worse when I had small children and no sleep. My seasonal allergies also made them worse.

    I never had a preventative, but got flexerol for a back issue and it seemed to work to rescue me from at least the worst of the hangover and awful knots in my back and neck afterward. I talked to my doctor and she agreed to let me try it. So far it seems to help.

    I think the thing that helped the most was keeping good records to figure out my triggers and being agressive with seasonal allergy treatments. If they go back to being more frequest, I might go see a neurologist, but this is working for now. Accupuncture was helpful, but I can’t spare the time or money right now. Good luck finding something that works for you.

  16. Have you tried massage? Tight muscles in the neck and shoulders can refer pain to the head. “The Trigger Point Therapy Workbook” (2nd ed.) has been VERY helpful to me in learning how to get to the root of my headaches and migraines with self-massage using hands, tennis ball and a nifty TheraCane. If you’re interested in learning more, check out the website triggerpointbook(dot)com. Find “Help with Pain” on the top bar, click on “Conditions & Symptoms” and find Migraines in their alphabetical list of symptoms. I hope this helps. It’s so simple and inexpensive, but many doctors don’t know the connection between muscle tightness and referred pain patterns.

  17. I use Zomig (2.5 mg), as soon as I even THINK I have a migraine, along with a large cup of something caffeinated (tea/coffee/etc.). It helps to lay down & close my eyes – but it’s not always mandatory if I catch it early enough.

    If I wake up *with* a migraine, I take the Zomig (2.5 mg – up to 10 mg in a day) and a Flexeril (10 mg/muscle relaxer) – which causes me to be a bit sleepy. The muscle relaxer helps with the tension headache that I seem to get with some migraines.

    I notice that the more severe the weather change is (big storms/barometer changes), the worse the migraine.

    I also take 10-20 mg of Claritin every day for my allergies.

    Imitrex never worked for me – in the shot or pill form.

    Good luck with finding meds that work for you!

  18. I had them so bad, for about three days at a time a couple of times per month and I was left so exhausted. I needed to stay in the dark, to sleep and to deal with a very upset stomach. When they were triggered by stress, I would get them when the stressful event/project ended! I studied everything I could my hands on and then I went on a megadose treatment of evening primrose oil (a few 1000 mg capsules per day, 2 or 3 and twice a day) and feverfew (standardized dosage). It took me about 5 months and then I woke up one day and I felt better, my head was so clear (I guess it does take some time to replenish whatever was missing!). The next few months I experienced only the aura of the migraine, no nausea, slight if any headache. Within a year they were completely gone and they continue to stay away for over 2 years now. Good luck!

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