A Lifetime of Migraines
Knowing triggers helps, woman says, but still the headaches come
TUESDAY, Dec. 21, 2010 (HealthDay News) -- Judy Brown says she has suffered from terrible migraine headaches since she was in her teens.
Brown, now 51 and living in Nashua, N.H., remembers being out with friends when she was 16 and having a migraine come on, even though she didn't understand at the time what was happening.
"I would have to find a quiet place," she said. "Sometimes it would be a car, a back seat where I could lie down. The noise and lights and all that bothered me. I didn't know they were migraines at that point."
Migraine pain, she said, is all-consuming. "It takes control of your whole body and your whole life," Brown said. "For as long as it lasts, your life is on hold."
Brown wasn't diagnosed with migraines until after she had graduated from college and had taken a job that required frequent travel. The headaches became so bad that they were interfering with her ability to drive for her job.
"I remember taking enough aspirin that my ears would ring," she said. "You keep taking it, saying 'This will help,' but it never did."
A neurologist diagnosed her with migraines and prescribed a high dosage of beta blockers, but she didn't respond well to the medication. "The headaches were gone, but I couldn't function," Brown said. She recalled being weary in the afternoons, sleepwalking and having vivid nightmares.
She next turned to a New England headache clinic that she'd heard about from friends. After a three-hour diagnostic visit, the doctors there began tapering off the beta blocker. They also provided her with rescue medication she could take when a migraine came on, to help minimize its effects.
The migraines haven't gone away. In fact, Brown estimates that she has about 10 a month. "I was in bed this afternoon for migraine," she said. "I went out golfing this morning, and it was cold and windy and brought on a migraine."
But over time, Brown said, she has figured out a number of the things that trigger her migraines: foods with nitrates or MSG, poor sleep, strong fragrances, loud noises, flickering lights. She is beginning to suspect pollen and allergies may trigger her headaches, too.
She's done her best to address the triggers. "My house is fragrance-free," Brown said. "I don't eat bacon or Chinese food -- anything with MSG." When she visits a home with scented candles burning, she asks that they be put out. She tries to avoid people with heavy perfume or aftershave.
But still the headaches come. "I've gone months without a migraine, and then all of a sudden, boom! What's different? I don't know," Brown said.
One of her two daughters, a 16-year-old, also has begun having migraines. "Hers usually will come in the middle of the night while she's home," Brown said. "She has a different pattern than mine."
Brown hopes that her own migraines will begin to subside as she ages. "I'm in the middle of menopause," she said. "It's my understanding that once you get through that, things calm down a little bit."
A companion article on headaches offers more on triggers, signs and treatments for migraines and other headaches.