Tuesday, May 5, 2020

How I Stopped My Chronic Migraines

(Since my migraines are lessening in frequency, I figured I'd write down my experience with my most recent one for the sake of remembering what it was like & shedding light on the issue for those who aren't familiar with it.  The symptoms are so bizarre I want to document them for anyone else who might be going through it, and also discuss a bit of how I overcame chronic migraine.  If this interests you, read on).  

Background & Symptoms

My first migraine happened around age 30.  I'd just started a new birth control (Seasonique) & on Day 2 was sidelined with what I thought was a stroke:  light sensitivity, one-sided head pain & a dull throbbing sensation that lasted all day & night.  I quit the Seasonique but switched to a low-estrogen brand, which was much better for my mood but--I didn't know at the time--largely responsible for my continuing migraines.  They started as menstrual headaches that only occurred during my periods but eventually sprawled out to other times of the month until I had some degree of head pain 15+ days per month.  This went on for 6 years; I went on disability.  It was a bad time for the empire.

In all this time, I joined several migraine chat groups & read everything I could about the condition (currently reading:  this awesome book by famed neurologist & drug-enthusiast Oliver Sacks).  It took the full 5 years to grasp that the wide constellation of seemingly unrelated symptoms like frequent urination & gnawing stomach pain were part of the migraine cycle.  By the end I could tell when one was coming on a whole day before & had come to see migraine not as a headache but as a neurological storm affecting the whole body.  Yet some symptoms still seemed too weird to believe.

A PARTIAL list of symptoms

For instance, I've always been a somewhat depressed/moody person--definitely on the lethargic side--but in the day leading up to a migraine I become absolutely elated, often convincing myself I'm actually bipolar & this is my first manic episode.  (Bipolar disorder runs in my family so it's not an unfounded fear).  Without fail, these random bursts of energy & euphoria are followed by a crushing headache the following day & I'm reminded that it's all part of the cycle, not of bipolar disorder but of migraine.

No matter how many recreational substances I ingest, I cannot recreate these euphoric states unless a migraine prodrome is happening.  When I'm experiencing one of these euphorias, everything seems connected & like it has a deeper meaning or higher purpose...just like manic episodes are described.  I can't sleep no matter how many OTC sedatives I take & usually end up chewing my tongue to the point it's painful.  And then it comes crashing down in waves of head pain the next day & I remember that I'm not bipolar.  It's "just" a migraine.

Which brings me to the actual headache.  For me, it's a dull throbbing sensation on one side of the head that's aggravated by noise, bright lights & especially strong smells like cologne or room spray.  I never have nausea or vomiting, but my digestion slows down to a painful degree.  It feels like my stomach is not moving whatsoever & is almost paralyzed.  Cannabis makes this worse.  But the head pain is elusive & seems to radiate from the lower back of the head/neck to the sinuses and, sometimes, to my teeth.  When I had a severely decayed tooth that needed pulling, the only time I could feel the toothache was during a migraine.  Go figure.

Turning Down the Volume

Migraines are typically one-sided

After quitting hormonal birth control, the quality of my migraines changed gradually until they pretty much ground to a halt.  I liken this to "turning down the volume" on a radio, but with pain.  Instead of headaches, my cheeks would hurt so bad I couldn't sleep.  I'd still get the "manias" & stomach pain but the headache never came.  Eventually these prodrome symptoms eased up too.  Things that used to trigger me like cannabis, agmatine sulfate & the anticholinergic drug Bentyl I now take with abandon.  Even cold fronts & thunderstorms don't set me off!  I'm currently left with only the most minor symptoms:  frequent urination, occasional stomach stasis & sensitivity to smells.  I've had one real migraine headache in all of 2020.

I still consider myself a migraineur despite losing the head pain because it's a genetic neurological condition that never truly goes away.  It may have been triggered by the hormonal birth control in my case, but the tendency had to be there to begin with.  My sister & aunt also have debilitating migraines so it doesn't just magically come from nowhere.  But taking the birth control out of the equation has left me with SO much less pain--85% at least.  I know not everyone can just up & quit their contraceptives--I only took it for endometriosis pain (which is a whole other blog for another day); not pregnancy prevention.  But if your migraines started while taking hormonal birth control, you might look into other alternatives like non-hormonal IUD, tubal ligation or progestin-only pills.

Daysee:  Generic Seasonique I was taking when I had my 1st migraine.

Another welcome side effect of quitting the Pill:  my blood pressure has gone down & stayed down consistently.  Before, it was always in the 130-140/80-90 range; now the it is never above 130/80 (and often 120/80).  This has lead to near fainting episodes in the shower twice but it's well worth it if my risk of stroke, heart attack, kidney damage & other blood-pressure related problems is reduced.  There's a warning on the package insert that birth control pills may cause migraines but no doctor has ever mentioned it to me in all the years I've taken them...even when I complain to them about my migraines.  Not cool.  If I'd made the connection sooner I would've likely considered stopping.

While my endometriosis symptoms are much worse without the Pill, so far I'm happy with the decision to quit.  Lower blood pressure & total lack of migraines is well worth the trade-off for me.  I manage the pain with lots of codeine, kratom & cannabis (since I can no longer take NSAIDs due to chronic gastritis) along with a heating pad.  Prior to quitting birth control, I'd tried a number of things to manage my migraines:  Topamax, Fioricet, CBD, special "migraine" sunglasses & other things.  None of these were remotely as effective as quitting birth control.  Unfortunately.

Do you suffer from migraines & take hormonal birth control?  What are your triggers?  How old were you when you got your first migraine?  Drop a comment in the box below this article.  I'd be happy to answer your questions as well.

Note:  Nothing in this article is intended as medical advice.  Migraine is a complex condition with unique personal causes & triggers.  Talk to your doctor or neurologist before attempting any new treatment.  

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