Migraine Misery and Mystery

I have just had my third migraine in two weeks.   They are debilitating, depressing, invasive and can destroy my day.   It certainly did on Christmas Day, of all the times you do not want a migraine!   It is a mystery because even these days its cause is not fully known or understood by the medical profession.

I clearly remember my first migraine, I was 9 and it was as though I had a vortex in my head.   It was very frightening,  fortunately my Mother, also a migraine sufferer,  knew what to do.   I don’t recall how many or  how often I had them after that but I know  I had some dreadful attacks in my early teens when I was at school.

They had become such a part of my life, I can’t recount when and where I suffered again in following years but there were many and frequent attacks.    I do know I have memories of  suffering a migraine after twice moving house and put the trigger down to relaxation after a stressful period – this is still my major trigger point.   Exercise and missed meals are also triggers.  I learned this to my detriment when I used to rush off at lunchtime to play squash.  After several migraines on the trot I decided that perhaps a frenetic game of squash on an empty stomach was not a sensible idea.  The problem is, as many migraine suffers will identify with, I became apprehensive about playing squash completely and gave it up, for fear of another attack.

When I was younger coping with two small children, they have struck while driving and I had to pull over until the aura had passed and then drive home fighting back the nausea.    There is no respite from a migraine with children.  I would just collapse once they were in bed.   It is heriditary and as my mother suffered, so too do my daughters.

As I grew older I thought I was growing out of them with only the occasional migraine attack, although they still took me out of action for approximately 36 hours.

Once, in my 40’s, I lost the power of speech during an attack which was terrifying.   I knew what I wanted to say but it came out garbled, as though I was having a stroke, a very scary thought.   Recent research  has shown that there is a greater chance of a migraine sufferer having a stroke, which doesn’t surprise me because it is all brain function related.

In the last couple of years they appear to be on the increase.  Probably because there is more stress and worry in my life, so when I do relax, bang, another attack.    I have given up coffee, which I used to love, but that is guaranteed to set one off.   Red wine is something else I have stopped drinking – again a drink I used to enjoy.  These are well known food triggers along with cheese, which fortunately I can still eat, although I should not eat because of cholesterol, but that is another matter.

WARNING!  If you are a migraine sufferer you may not want to look at this picture.  I  made it using a photographic effect on Picnik and is pretty much a good example of what an aura can be like.

There are two types of migraine:

A Common migraine, with a throbbing one sided headache, nausea and/or vomiting and a sensitivity to light and noise; and

a Classical migraine, with all of the above plus visual disturbance, such as zig zag lines, blind spots and numbness/pins and needles in your arms or legs.

I suffer from the classical migraine.  My warning signals used to be what I would call the ‘Alice in Wonderland effect’ with my arms no longer mine, almost as someone was standing behind me and waving theirs around in front of me.    These days I get blind spots and visual disturbance followed within about 10 minutes with zig zig lines which last about 30 minutes.  The banging headache follows after that for about 24 hours.   There is never any knowing when or where they will hit.  In hindsight I always think  how I felt full of energy when I woke up that morning, but at the time it doesn’t register as a pre-emptive signal of what is to come.  I do know that if I am suffering from a cluster I am on edge worrying when the next will be.

I have had most types of prescriptive medicines over the years, the latest was Sumatriptan which makes my whole body feel fuzzy and is almost as debilitating as the migraine itself.    Early last year I was prescribed Pitzofen (a serotonin inhibitor).  The problem with this one is that it causes drowsiness and I have great difficulty in waking up in the morning, so I stopped taking it.    I have now downloaded a diary from the Migraine Trust website which might help but I know after 50 years of suffering that they don’t always follow a pattern.    I suspect the key is to learn to step back and take a  more relaxed attitude to life.  Also to have my neck checked out because it is grinding and crunching as I move my head.   A GP appointment is arranged for Wednesday.

In the meantime, can anyone who also suffers, or knows anyone who does suffer from migraine give some holistic/complimentary medicine advice.  I would rather not have to keep taking drugs if I can avoid them.

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    17 thoughts on “Migraine Misery and Mystery

    1. It was really great that you all took time to leave interesting comments and advice. I know I am in good company, if you can say that, because only a migraine sufferer can understand what a migraine is really like. Probably a bit like you only know what its like to give birth when you have done it. I now have a new drug to take which should also relax the muscles in my neck so fingers crossed it will work. In the meantime I will investigate the holistic approach and eat pasta 🙂

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    2. Hi Ronnie, I’m also a classical migraineur and could fully relate to this post. I read a book recently that was extremely helpful and highly recommend it:

      “The Migraine Brain” by Carolyn Bernstein (2008) ISBN: 9781416547686

      She is a doctor and migraine sufferer dedicated to improved treatment of headache and migraines. I found the approach in the book to be holistic and think it is an important read for migraineurs. Migraines and the treatment of, is a highly individualistic journey. For me, one of the revelations was keeping a track of my prodrome symptoms in order to be able to medicate/act effectively, whether with traditional or alternative methods.

      The more I research migraines, the more I suspect the stomach-migraine connection is a very important part of the process. Young people who start with ‘stomach migraines’ often move on to ‘head migraines’ when older. I am planning to experiment more with the stomach connection this year. In the meantime, with regards to conventional medicine a nasal spray called Zomig has helped me lately. The difference to Sumatriptan tablets is that it is faster acting in hitting the blood stream and (providing you can time it right with the prodrome symptoms) the rate of success for pain relief is higher.

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    3. I too am a migraine sufferer..there has never been a pattern, random at best, now as I pass through menopause; they have lessened, I have had only 2 last year. (knock on wood). I wish that I could offer some alternatives to you; I did however hear of acupuncture offering relief to some. Yoga, will help with relaxation
      Be well, and take care.
      Jess

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    4. You have my sympathies Ronnie, because my hub has suffered with debilitating migraines since he was a teenager. His are Classical – blind spots, lines before the eyes, numbness, nausea, etc., and quite often his speech is affected – he knows what he wants to say but it comes out garbled. A bad migraine can put him in bed for two days, and he has to wear a mask to keep any light out of his eyes.
      The triggers for him are stress, but mainly food combinations – cheese, chocolate, onions or orange juice. His neck also crunches when he moves it, so I’m wondering if it’s all connected. He has been on medication for it, but nothing seems to work effectively. However, when we lived in the UK, his doctor prescribed some pills (which were really expensive), and they worked as long as he took one right at the onset of the migraine. For the life in me, I can’t think of the name of the pill now, but we can’t get it in Australia anyway.
      I will be interested to know the results when you get your neck checked.

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    5. I suffer with the common migraine (hormone related) I can have it for 3 days in a row. This week I have had 3 days of headaches. About 8 years ago I did experience the classical migraine I could not see for about half and hour and was at work when it happened. Very scary thought I was going blind. Had the visual disturbance you described but no the pins and needles thankfully. Also okay with food and drink as far a I am aware.

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    6. I have suffered since my 20s and used to medicate with over the counter drugs until I almost died from a bleeding ulcer from these meds. I have tried some drugs (Maxalt) which makes you drowsy but no other side effects…but my best help is acupuncture. it is immediate and they stay away..Massage helps too sometimes paired with the acupuncture. i have common type but they put me down for a day sometimes days if they cluster. The only thing that has helped is the acupuncture. Mine stem from my neck…starts with sinus pain and eye pain and moves to the muscles of the neck and voila a migraine. Triggers are low pressure, some smells, lack of caffeine, lack of sleep.

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    7. That logic of low GI would work well with brown rice. Just a spoonful, as you can? I also once read something about cold/hot hands. Sorry, long ago, no link to offer.
      Another reason why I avoid those unreadable blogs who choose white/neon text on a black background. Someone else called them Migraine City!

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    8. Having been with you at the onset of one of your migraines I can testify to the speed with which they take hold. I have the occasional aura, I have only had a migraine once in my life about 30 years ago, but I can still remember it. I do feel so sorry for anyone who suffers from them. Really interesting post.

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    9. Having no knowledge of what it is to suffer from migraines I can tell you in great detail what it is to suffer from gallstones so my sympathies are entirely with you. The pain seems much the same, just in different places.

      Someone told me years ago that placing ones hands in cold water could be of help, like having your feet massaged but in reverse mode somehow resetting the nervous system. It might be a myth but you never know it must just work.

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    10. I’ve had them for almost 30 years, onset around age 8. Stress, not eating, not drinking enough water…those are my biggest triggers, as well as my time of the month. I’ve tried massage, which worked well for a time but for some reason I quit. You do need someone really good who can give therapeutic massage. I’ve tried biofeedback, hand warming. Those didn’t do a thing but I know someone who says it helped. I’m on a preventive now (for about a year and a half) and I don’t love it, but it’s reduced my headaches from 15 a month to around 5 or so. I tried Topamax and didn’t like it, but I’m on Zonegran now. I’ve already had to increase my dosage so I know it won’t work forever and it suppresses my appetite (I LOVE food too much!). Also, I did try trigger point injections and nerve blocks, which were incredibly wonderful but expensive and only lasted a week. I’m going to try acupuncture next since I had good results with the injections and it would be drug free. I have met so few people who have suffered from migraines since childhood and into adulthood. I’m so sorry. Try massage if you haven’t. If you can make the commitment to it, it may help. Best of luck!

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    11. As you probably know I have suffered with migraines since childhood as well. My triggers are definitely stress and tiredness. I am only having them very rarely now and put this down to making sure I eat regularly and make sure I eat carbs (especially the longer lasting carbs like bread, potatoes, rice etc). In a diet obsessed world carbs are often seen as a no go area but they keep our blood sugar levels which when they yo-yo can often be a trigger for a migraine. Case in point is that if I am at home when I migraine starts I can reduce its severity by eating a bowl of pasta and just end up having to take paracetemol and being quiet for a hour rather than losing whole days. Might be worth looking at?

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      1. Hi Claire… I will certainly try a bowl of pasta, (if I felt I could keep it down at the time). Thanks for the suggestion. Nuromol (nurofen/paracetomol) works well usually for the headache although it hasn’t really touched the sides on the latest one.

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    12. Hi,

      I suffer from Migraines too and thankfully now rarely ever get them with the zig-zags but do get blind spots frequently. If I get the ziggies then I know I’m in for a rough one and it’ll mean I won’t be able to see very well for a good few hours after.
      My triggers are strong smells (perfume, smoke, sprays), heavy days – high pressure and if I become too hot and flustered. I get a patch under my left eye on my cheek bone that’s red and hot, that’s usually when I have some paracetamol and then I’m fine.
      Occasionally I’ve had what I refer to as being a double migraine, where I have the zigzags, they cross my vision and go, then as I’m beginning to recover I get it again! Then I know I’m in for a massively awful time and it can be two days later before my sight is fully back as it feels like I cannot see out of the corner of my eyes and almost like tunnel vision – although not as extreme.

      At school I could guarantee I’d get one every science lesson after we’d used Bunsen burners and idiots had let the gas out of the tap. The gas smell would trigger it.

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