Living with Chronic Migraines

It's no picnic.

Since second grade (about 2006?), I have been living with chronic migraines. The sensitivity to light, sound, smell, I've experienced it all: spending the night on the bathroom floor because you're so nauseous you are afraid to move, throwing up in my friends car on the way back from a dance, losing a job, losing friends, losing faith. In recent years, I have also become dizzy when I get migraines; there have been a couple times where I have come very close to passing out!

"A migraine is an episodic, unpredictable headache disorder that presents with disabling attacks." -American Migraine Foundation

Caffeine used to be my best friend, until I realized that going without it for even half a day would just cause me to have another migraine. So I learned to cut back on my caffeine intake, and listen to what set them off so I could try to control my environment more to avoid as many as possible.

Photo by Carolina Heza on Unsplash

So what sets them off?

Honestly it can be anything. There are so many causes for migraines, it can be very hard to control. Here are the big ones that I found, but it is important to realize that not everyone's "triggers" and response to migraines are different:

  1. Sleep - too little sleep, too much sleep. Keeping a consistent sleep schedule is very important in my life. It's not always easy to achieve though. As a full-time college student with two jobs and a business on the side, I experience a lot of late nights and mornings.

  2. Screen Time - it's the blue light! Half of my job revolves around computers and screen technology. If I am messaging people on my phone, making calls, editing photos/video or writing, I am looking at a screen. And then of course, in my down-time if I am video-gaming, watching TV, etc. that all counts too. The blue light is especially hard on my eyes, so I have to pay close attention to how they are feeling. If they feel tired or dry, even a 10-15 minute break between projects can be a nice relief to help prevent migraines.

  3. The Senses - sound, sight (light), smell, sounds - no parties for this girl. Light - UV rays and party lights like disco balls or strobe lights. Smells - mostly vanilla and any body sprays or perfumes. I have an extremely heightened sense of smell, so if you like perfume, it might be best to dial it back around me. When I am experiencing a migraine, this only intensifies. I can't be near any food because it makes me extremely nauseous. Sound - I have to be very careful around loud music, loud people, or any loud surroundings. With that being said, I have a very difficult time at music concerts. And again, when I am experiencing a migraine, my sense of hearing intensifies as well. Little things like fans, pen clicking, a car passing, a whisper, a kiss, closing a door, etc. are all annoyingly loud when I have a migraine.

  4. Stress - Let's face it, with two part-time jobs, running a business, being a full-time student, planning a wedding and trying to have a social life (and now COVID-19!), stress is pretty much a daily thing. I need to have time to unwind and relax otherwise the stress can add up and make for a pretty bad week or month even. I try to take a break every couple days. That might mean I put work up when I come home, or it might mean I just take a nap for an hour or two in between tasks. It is really important to keep the stress at a manageable level.

  5. Pressure - changes in elevation and barometric pressure. In the Midwest, it isn't uncommon to have a particularly ridiculous week for weather. One day it could be 70 and sunny, and the next 32 with a huge snowstorm. The barometric change that happens in the atmosphere has an impact on migraines for some including myself.

Effective 'Natural' Treatments?

Migraines can be treated using preventative measures as well as acute relief.

Did you know that nearly 36 million Americans, the majority of whom are women, suffer from migraines? The definition is: "a recurrent throbbing headache that typically affects one side of the head and is often accompanied by nausea and disturbed vision."

If you prefer more holistic methods of treatment there is plenty of research to back up diet and exercise changes in your lifestyle. Managing stress, keeping a daily migraine 'diary,' setting a stricter sleep schedule and participating in habitual exercise may not eliminate the problem all together, but the balance may help you to stay in control of them.

When exercising, aerobic and light intensity or strength training is better for migraines as well as insomnia and anxiety. If you have depression, try high intensity workouts. Keeping fit and exercising at least 30 minutes for five times a week is one of the most important lifestyle changes with migraine patients.

Essential Oils. Peppermint oil is one of the most commonly used essential oils to relieve and treat both migraines as well as everyday 'normal' headaches. It has been proven to be so beneficial because it contains menthol which can help muscles relax in return, your pain eases. If you don't want to apply oil directly you can also find peppermint in a gel capsule form or teas.

Photo by Chelsea shapouri on Unsplash

Other oils include rosemary, lavender, chamomile, and eucalyptus. Read how they work and how to use them by following this link to Healthline Media. The biggest thing to remember is that a little goes a long way (one to three drops should be enough).

Magnesium. EFAs - Essential Fatty Acids (Fish Oil). Chiropractic Adjustments. There's a whole list of recommendations for items that can help relieve or prevent migraines. It's hard to know exactly what is going to work, because it changes for everyone.

For example, among the list is a daith piercing. 10/10 don't recommend. I have heard many success stories from friends and family, but when I got mine pierced, nada, nothing. In fact, it got super infected and was causing more pain than it was worth.

Now, I have a cute little piercing but it doesn't help at all. The problem with this is that it is based on acupuncture, and you have to make sure that the right spot is pierced otherwise their is no effectiveness.

Prescription Treatments

There is no shame in seeking medical help of any kind. At some point, caffeine and pain killers like Advil® and Excedrin Migraine® are going to stop working. I have tried a handful of prescribed medications looking for the one that would work. When I was in Iowa, I tried several different medications, and finally found a preventative that worked for me. I struggled with migraines more than three times a week some months, so when Topamax® (topiramate) brought the intensity and frequency down, I was so relieved.

Unfortunately, with my move to South Dakota after graduating high school in 2017, the elevation difference of more than 3,000 feet made a huge impact, and I was experiencing migraines almost every other day if not more with very intense side affects.

"'Preventive medications are often used for people who are having more than four migraine attacks a month, or if your attacks are very disabling,' Dr. Michael says. These medications are taken daily if they are oral tablets/capsules, monthly or every three months if they are injected." -American Migraine Foundation

For me, it was a battle that lasted almost a year-and-a-half. I finally said enough after losing a job and getting sick in front of a bunch of coworkers after a day at Sanford Underground Research Facility. When my doctor back home suggested a brand new medication, Aimovig®, I decided to do some research and see a doctor in Spearfish. Released in May of 2018, I was accepted on a free trial of the medication in November. Aimovig® is a shot using SureClick® that patients take once every 28 days. The results don't lie. On the medication for a year, I now only have migraines two or three times a month. The only down side to this medication: needles. I am terrified of needles. I guess you win some and you lose some though. 🤷‍♀️

Before I found Aimovig®, I tried an array of medications including: sumitriptan®, topomax®, midrin®, and propranolol®. Before insurance will cover costly medications like Aimovig® and Emgality® (CGRP receptors, learn more about what this is in the video below.) Be sure to talk to your doctor about what works best for you and what steps you need to find the right treatment plan. While Aimovig® became my miracle drug, it might not be for everyone.

Are you a chronic migraine sufferer? Know someone who is? I want to hear about your experiences! Comment below.


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