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Survival tips from a 40-year migraine veteran

Survival tips from a 40-year veteran

This fall marks the 40th anniversary of my first migraine attack. Over the years I have learned a few things about coping with attacks in a wide variety of situations. As I reflect back, I can’t believe how long it took me to figure out some of the simplest things. Hopefully you’re a little faster to pick up on these tricks than I was. Just in case you’re wondering, here’s a list of everything I wish I’d known just a little bit sooner.

  • Dramamine is an acceptable alternative to prescription anti-nausea pills. The sooner you take it, the less likely you are to vomit and it makes you sleepy, too.
  • Velcro straps, long scarves, wide belts, and Ace bandages all work to fasten an ice pack (or two or three) to your head. No need to wear out your arms trying to hold the darn thing in just the right spot.
  • Icy Hot, Aspercreme, BenGay, BioFreeze, Tiger Balm – take your pick. They all make nice massage lotions to ease the pain of an attack, sore neck muscles, and that all-over ache of allodynia.
  • Hot or cold showers really help cut the pain. It’s even better if you have adjustable jets to concentrate the water pressure in just the right spot.
  • Vibrating massagers cut the pain when nothing else works.
  • Stacking medicines is more effective than triptans alone. Ask your doctor about this one before you try it. My neuro recommends adding Naproxen, Benadryl, and Zofran when taking a triptan to improve its effectiveness.
  • Get to know your prodrome symptoms and understand these symptoms do not trigger the attack. Instead they tell you the migraine attack has already started. Food cravings, mood swings, hyperactivity, irritability, insomnia, yawning, neck stiffness – these are all prodrome symptoms that tell me and my family the attack is already under way.
  • Sunglasses are essential accessories for any occasion
  • Never run out of Sprite, 7-Up, or Ginger Ale
  • Always keep the toilet clean. You never know when you will need to shove your face in it.
  • Help yourself to a few extra emesis bags the next time you visit the UC or ER for a migraine attack. Stashing a few in the car may come in handy some day.
  • A power inverter is a useful car accessory. You can plug in heating pads and enjoy their warmth when traveling during an attack.
  • Heated car seats and adjustable lumbar support are not luxury features.
  • It is not excessive to install dimmer switches on every light in the house
  • You can never have too many ice packs.
  • Filled with rice, flax seed, corn, or clay – microwaveable hot packs are a necessity
  • TENS units relieve pain just as well as some pain relievers without the drowsy side effects or risk of MOH
  • The early bird really does catch the worm. Don’t wait to take your meds. They work a lot better when taken at the first sign of trouble.
  • Silicone ear plugs muffle sound to ease phonophobia
  • Weighted eye masks help you sleep
  • Get tested for sleep apnea soon after you are diagnosed with Migraine. I wasted years not getting results from preventive medicine because my sleep disorder undid all the good while I slept.
  • Keep all your migraine supplies in a big bag, refill as needed, and never leave home without it.
  • Never, ever, ever run out of meds.
  • Insist on rescue treatments to use at home so you can avoid the ER when your attacks get out of control.
  • Supporters are rare and precious. Be generous with your gratitude and praise.
  • Don’t be afraid to do what you must to get your migraine needs met. Whine, complain, beg, demand, whatever works – just never accept, “I can’t help you” as the final answer.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The Migraine.com team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

Comments

  • TGG1804
    4 years ago

    Fantastic read Tammy, I live in the UK and at the first sign of an attack I take 900mg of aspirin and 2 30/500 co-codamol, 7 times out of 10 this works and kicks the migraines ass, on the times when the painkillers dont work I take a 50mg sumatriptan, that little buff pill is a life saver, I also daily take 50mg of amitriptyline. I will also wear in an attack a buff or scarf to keep my neck warm, have been known to go to bed wearing them to keep my neck/head warm. The issue I have is a tend to get woken up by migraine pain, I also suffer from phonophobia, earplugs are a godsend, also use a blind fold and I have black out blinds and curtains so my bedroom is as dark as possible. One prodrome symptom I have is continuous yawning. Cold presses dont work for me but heat does. I have a purple pouch that goes every where with me as in whatever room I’m in its also there. I also use coca cola for its caffeine as well, I also own a pair of oakley sunglasses with their G30 iridium lens which are a lovely shade of pink but they are so relaxing to my eyes.

  • Judy H
    4 years ago

    Tammy,

    Thank you for listing all of your great observations in one complete list! I thought I was the only one who got relief from a vibrating travel style pillow! I have a couple of things to add:

    Re: a vibrating massager – if you are lucky enough to find a vibrating travel style pillow – buy it! They’re hard to find.

    Re: hot or cold showers – I have also alternated running comfortably warm water, then cold water, then repeat, over my head – especially the side with the migraine. Can be done in the sink or over the tub (if you can manage to bend over during the agony).

    Magnesium oil or magnesium flakes in the bathwater: soak for 20 minutes. Some of us absorb magnesium through the skin better than we get it through dietary supplements. Many migraineurs are low in magnesium.

    Meds & supplements: Keep a hard or soft copy list of your current meds and supplements. If you do have to resort to the ER, you can provide a list to the ER staff. Better than trying to remember or scooping up all of the bottles on your way out the door of your house when you are in too much pain to focus.

    A professional massage of head, neck, shoulders, and upper back are NOT a luxury. I finally got the gumption to find an LMT as an emergency contingency plan during my last migraine attack. Much better than the ER. Tip: If your health professional can write you a prescription for a regular massage, you might be able to avoid paying sales tax (in applicable states).

    Don’t be reluctant to take your spouse to a medical appointment if you feel the headache specialist might not have your best interests in mind. Helps you determine “is it just me or is this Dr. just not interested in finding the best way forward?”

  • Jill M.
    4 years ago

    Tammy,

    Thanks for much for sharing. It’s wonderful to have a great doctor to give advice and share professional knowledge, but it’s awesome to have a community of migraneurs who truly understand and can share their experiences.

    Thanks for this great list as well as the other articles you and other regular authors have written. Migraine.com is my go-to site for migraine info! I frequently reference this site or even point my friends/family here to learn about migraine for themselves.

  • Julia
    4 years ago

    Tammy you rock! I’ve learned a couple new tricks from your post. I’ve never heard of “stacking medicines” before. Your article was great! Thank God we have people like you in the world. Thank you.

  • Tracy Grant
    4 years ago

    Hi great article. I need some help with meds. The one and only time i was able to stop my menstrual migraine was last month taking naprosyn SR 4 days before i was due. I have a migraine now that just came out of no where ( not mentrual connected) and tried taking 500 mg naproxen. it failed. I can’t take triptans as they put me in hospital a couple of years back. If my initial prodome regime fails, and don’t take meds and endure the pain. Meds don’t seem to make much difference once into the pain. My migraines generally last 3 days.

  • Tammy Rome author
    4 years ago

    Have you talked to your doctor about stacking medicines? Maybe in addition to naproxen, he/she would approve the use of Benadryl, an anti-emetic, a muscle relaxer, and some caffeine. That might make your treatment more effective.

    Sometimes medicine alone isn’t enough. I rarely use abortives all by themselves. I layer home remedies and medicines. A typical attack response includes an abortive, layered with an NSAID, anti-emetic, Benadryl, ice, heat, plus Tiger Balm and essential oils.

  • Taylor
    4 years ago

    Tammy, your articles are fabulous! This one is exceptional. I’ve noticed you put a lot of emphasis on taking your medications at the onset of an attack, but I keep reading literature that we’re supposed to limit our use to 2-3 times a month. I tend to hold off too long on taking meds because I have WAY too many attacks to stay within those parameters and wait for the migraine to become “medicine-worthy”… how do we protect ourselves from the harmful side effects of over-medicating while getting the relief we need? In my case, is my frequent triptan/pain reliever use a sign that my regimen of preventatives and other treatments aren’t effective enough to do the job?

    Thanks!
    Taylor

  • Tammy Rome author
    4 years ago

    Taylor,

    If you feel you need to take abortives more than 2-3 times a week, then yes, you need to talk to your doctor about a better preventive regimen. In my case, the problem was that the abortive wore off before the migraine was over. By switching to a longer-lasting triptan, I am now able to avoid getting attacks 3-4 days in a row. I also now use 2 different Rx preventives, plus Botox, a CPAP, CoQ-10, Melatonin, and Vitamin D. Sometimes you have to throw a lot at migraine before it will calm down.

    Also, I usually encourage “waiters” to start using home remedies right away even if you don’t take medicines. At the first sign of an attack, get an ice pack, a heating pad, a muscle rub, and be aggressive. Early intervention doesn’t always have to mean medication. It does mean that we stop and pay attention to what Migraine is saying. Waiting and doing nothing is what gets us into trouble.

  • Taylor
    4 years ago

    Tammy, your articles are fabulous! This one is exceptional. I’ve noticed you put a lot of emphasis on taking your medications at the onset of an attack, but I keep reading literature that we’re supposed to limit our use to 2-3 times a month. I tend to hold off too long on taking meds because I have WAY too many attacks to stay within those parameters and wait for the migraine to become “medicine-worthy”… how do we protect ourselves from the harmful side effects of over-medicating while getting the relief we need? In my case, is my frequent triptan/pain reliever use a sign that my regimen of preventatives and other treatments aren’t effective enough to do the job?

    Thanks!
    Taylor

  • Tammy Rome author
    4 years ago

    cosmicbabe,

    As I wrote to Taylor, if you are needing to treat attacks more often than 2-3 times per WEEK, then you need to push back on your doctor to find a better preventive regimen.

  • cosmicbabe
    4 years ago

    Limit use of rescue meds to 2-3 times a month? I get 8-12 migraine attacks a month, and I’m the primary breadwinner for my family. Even with FMLA (and thank heaven for that!), I cannot afford to be off work more than 1-2 days a month or my family has to live on rice and ramen noodles. No way am I limiting my meds. I’m definitely going to learn about stacking meds though!

  • Nancy Harris Bonk moderator
    4 years ago

    Tammy, this is a wonderful list for anyone who has migraine!

    Thanks for sharing it with us,

    Nancy

  • Lisa Robin Benson moderator
    4 years ago

    A great list Tammy! I didn’t learn many of these until I joined the online migraine community. I think the rescue meds and never running out of meds is key. I hope many people will read this and learn and benefit.
    Lisa

  • indigo26
    2 years ago

    I can’t thank you enough Tammy for this wonderful list. Piriton syrup (antihistamine) works for me, warm showers, caffeine, drinking water, sunglasses, comfy pillows, dark room, sleep, Tiger balm, or Vicks over my face currently cuts my pain but your ideas having given me inspiration.

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