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The Unintentional Detox

I’ve often wondered if any of my meds were actually working. The cocktail often gets reworked about every 3 months as I see my Headache Specialist. When I return, I don’t really know what to say when asked if the current mix is better or worse than before. It’s so hard to tell which one does what after a while. Would I be better off weaning off everything and starting over again? Whether I liked it or not, a perfect storm recently pushed me into doing just that.

About seven weeks ago, my Migraines became more intense and frequent as my last Botox treatment was wearing off. Hoping that the next dose would give me relief, I just focused on getting through the until the next injections. So I threw everything in the book at these headaches just to cope. Shots of DHE and Toradol at home, painkillers, an occasional muscle relaxer, I continued the 3 preventatives I was on, yoga and meditation as much as I could handle and massage to deal with the unruly muscles twisted up in my neck and shoulders.

Two weeks of this and I couldn’t take it anymore, so off to the ER I go. They drugged me up enough to be more comfortable, but the Migraine cycle I was in would not give up. Still desperate for help, I requested a refill of pain medication. My Headache Specialist at the Jefferson Headache Clinic asked that I come in for an office visit to discuss. That’s a 3 hour car ride, but I needed a better plan. During the appointment, the resident and attending doctor were concerned about medication overuse headache (MOH).

Wait, me? I counsel people all the time about not taking too many abortives and keeping pain meds in check. I follow every direction on the meds I use, there’s no way MOH is my problem.

I was denied refills on certain meds that typically help me manage my dad to day. I voiced my displeasure, but also realized that if I fight too much I’m going to seem like a druggie. The real solution the doctor suggested was to come back next week for an inpatient stay. That sounds great…but I explained that I’m having some serious insurance issues and that is not possible until I can change plans during open enrollment in November. So I leave with an increased dose of one preventative (that I don’t really like), and a pat on the back.

My insurance woes continue as I try to get my prescription filled. This med is no longer approved and I would have to pay about $600 out of pocket for it. And by the way, two other meds I take are no longer allowed under my plan. (Before you get outraged for me, my insurance woes are semi self-inflicted as I blundered through the paperwork when I formally left my job a few months ago, but that’s a story for another day.) So at the end of the day, I was left with one preventative and DHE that I can only take once a week. This was dramatic change. How was I going to get through this?

Maybe I should embrace the situation? I can use this opportunity to clear out my body of all the drugs I’ve been cramming in for over three years. I can deepen my yoga and meditation practice to help manage the pain. Then in a few months I can begin to add other meds and have a much better understanding of whether they are helping or not.

Putting this zen way of thinking into practice was not as easy as it sounded. I’m not going to lie, every day for the last month I try to think of new ways to deal with this pain. Some days are more successful than others. I’ve now been to the ER a total of three times during this bad cycle. My average pain level is now 7-8 instead of 3-4. I’m sleeping between 12-16 hours a day, some days 18. I’ve been walking and getting massages and today got up the strength to go to a yoga class. I just added Magnesium to my daily regimen, hoping that will make a difference soon. I’m also reading about the elimination diet and hope to put that into practice by next week, something I never thought I would consider.

Tired of the pain and about to go stir crazy, I saw my Headache Specialist at Georgetown (yes, I have 2 specialists but they work well together to help me, plus I can’t always make it to Philly for check-ups). My doctor here started me back on Elavil and gave me DHE and Toradol to use multiple times a day for the next 4 days. I’m happy to say that it worked and I’m beginning to feel more normal. Well, normal as anyone who has chronic Migraines can be.

I’ve always felt that the way to tackle my Migraines was through a mix of medication and alternative methods. Relying more on the alternative has been eye-opening, but very frustrating. It forced me to think outside the box. This unintentional detox could help me in better managing my Migraines in the long run, but it’s been painful. I’ve also realized that for me, having preventative medication needs to be part of my strategy.

Have you ever detoxed from your meds? How did it go? Was it doctor recommended? I never encourage detoxing on your own. If you’ve thought about it, make a strong plan with your doctor first or you’ll end up miserable like I was!!

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


  • PC78
    4 years ago

    I am Dutch so I can imagine that treatment here in the Netherlands is somewhat different. I have detoxed under supervision from my neurologist for almost one year after the diagnosis of a status migrainosus. The first three month I was on prednisone the rest of the year I used the preventive drug diamox. It was the worst year of my life. I spend most of it in bed and was always in a lot of pain. By the end of the year I felt that something changed. The pain became less and less and now I have a migraine twice a week. There are some days that I don’t have any pain at all. I do take relpax now when the pain becomes too intense. But I am able to work and finish my Post Doc which I never imagined possible a two years ago. So detox can help! I am still in a lot of pain most of my days, but the days without pain always feel like some sort of miracle wherein I can do whatever I please.

  • 808sandra
    5 years ago

    My dear God Katie thank you for sharing. Thank all of you. I just came back from Stanford Hospital in California. I traveled from Maui. In brief, I have not been headache free since I was 14. I am female and 63.
    I have been on triptans and preventives since triptans came out. I recently started DHE shots because my insurance company cut my triptan quantity in half. I take triptans and DHE everyday..50-50. There is not a day without an abortive. I also take 2 fiorcette a day which is being stopped. My doctor told me they ban fiorcette in Europe. It really has been quite helpful to me. At one time it was my drug of choice. Not as effective as it used to be. We all know why.
    So, the plan is to put me on Botox and cut my abortive use by 50%. I guess you would say MOH. However, I already Pay $866 for health insurance and I don’t even know if the Botox will be covered. The last time it was rejected because my headaches did not decrease enough. Not to mention, oops I have a job.
    Anyway, back on track. My question was, is there any way I can do this in like two weeks? I think I already have that question answered. I am thinking with the quantity of meds I have been taking, I am in for the long haul. I have been detoxed in hospitals before, but never at home.
    The doctors were going to depend on the Botox and toradol. Is there a slower route to detoxing by decreasing meds by using every other day?
    If any one has suggestions I am open to them.
    Thank you Katie for sharing.
    Peace and Aloha

  • JLS78
    5 years ago

    I am currently on day 37 of a detox due to what my Neurologist thinks is Headache Medication Overuse. In those 37 days I caved and used Relpax twice, once because I’d been in the ER and a day later was supposed to go skydiving and still had remnants of a migraine, and the second time just this past Thursday because I was at my wits end. I am on the downside of a 3 day migraine which has left me in tears, feeling depressed and wondering if my life will ever get any better. My Neurologist took me off all my meds and suggested I do Botox, and as an alternative to being treated in the ER, I could do in office headache transfusion treatments. Well, that had given me some sort of hope until I found out that my Insurance plan does not cover either treatments. I recently had an MRI of my TMJ joint as I experience a lot of pain in my jaw, teeth, ears and sinuses. After I was told there is no sign of TMJ I still decided to see a Specialist. I was told that I have a lot of tension in my jaw muscles that could most definitely lead to migraines. My husband and I ended up paying $600 out of pocket for a fitted mouth guard which I will be receiving on the 13th of this month. I pray to God this helps. I experience some range of migraine 5-7 days a week. The only thing I am using as treatment right now are essential oils with very little effectiveness. This is the first time I’ve posted anything on a public forum about my migraines, (aside from facebook posts full of frustration). I’ve stated many a time that I feel like I need a support group. My husband and I have been married for about a year and a half now and I’ve dreamed of having kids all my life. I go down a dark rabbit hole of depression, fear, and anxiety thinking that I may never be able to have kids because of my migraines. My husband feels helpless, my friends are sympathetic but don’t quite get it. I am hanging on to a shred of hope that eventually things will get better during this detox process. I feel like my Neurologist didn’t do a very good job of coaching me through this. I’ve done a lot of my own research and found out insomnia and restlessness were symptoms of HMO detox. Things I have been experiencing but that my Dr. failed to mention. Anyways….I sincerely apologize for the tangent. I am so grateful I found this website as it’s the first time I’ve read about others experiences and completely resonated them.

  • solove0611
    5 years ago

    I too just recently found this website, and it is definately a God send. While I don’t actually have any advice I just wanted you to know we are here and you are not alone. Feel free to contact me anytime

  • TracyM09
    5 years ago

    I went through in hospital detox in 2002, I think it may have worked however, the Neuro sent me home with no meds, preventative or otherwise. I still wonder if I would have a better result with follow-up! I’ve asked to repeat the detox, however, the Neuro Department refuses to consider it. I’m on 3-4 preventatives, and Tamoxifen for Breast Cancer. As the Estrogen goes down my Migraines increase, the after effects are getting worse…I.e. I am not very mentally strong or coordinated for longer periods! At this point I wont go back to Neurology, I’ve seen them all, I just don’t think I can take round 3-4 of the preventatives from A-Z again. I’ll keep returning to my Internist for Morphine/Phenergen shots as needed.

    Be Well!

  • Anne
    5 years ago

    When I was unemployed, I didn’t use my migraine medication for 2 months – it was the worst time of my life and didn’t change the frequency or intensity. I am currently using Botox (still on the fence about how effective it is), Relpax and am on a restrictive diet (which I think helps the severity of the pain). I take vitamin B and magnesium. I’ve tried yoga therapy, acupuncture, homeopathic medicine, footbaths with epson salt, ice packs, even worn frozen socks – as I heard it could help with the pain, nothing stops it. Other than the food elimination and the vitamins, meds are the only way to function. I am getting pretty sick of doctors who are convinced that they know the reason for my migraines – one wanted me to get weekly massages, one thinks it’s stress (which has never been a trigger for me).

    For me, it’s the weather and hormones – neither of which can be completely managed. I get so angry with the constant pain, nausea, scrambled brain, light, smell and sound sensitivity, soreness and fatigue, but I have yet to find a miracle cure. I have to keep going as well – the only time I miss work is when I’m too dizzy to drive. This sucks but it’s nice to be able reach out to other sufferers who know what it’s like.

  • Janet
    5 years ago

    Yes Katie…I was detoxed twice in my lifetime of 38 years as a chronic migraine sufferer, both as inpatient treatments. Once the Diamond Headache Clinic in Chicago, December 2004 and the second in a hospital supervised by a headache specialist, Dr. Abraham Nagy, in Las Vegas (where I lived from 1992-2012). By far the diamond headache clinic was much better and had I had a better neurologist/headache specialist is Las Vegas when I returned in early January 2005 I probabaly would have found my life in a much better place than today.

    I left chicago 50% better and felt I could live this way for always…BUT I didn’t have good care after that 9 day stay….a downward spiral continued until being detoxed in March 2012 for 8 days…..then DHE for 4 days every 8 hours through a picc line. It failed..the doc was disappointed in me as I was in him. My husband was my advocate when he wanted to start me all over again on the preventatives that didn’t work in the first place for varied reasons. Now in the Atlanta area..where the migraines have an intensity I was hoping to forget after 38 years of suffering …a new headache specialist who believes food is the answer not drugs……so the ketone inc meal plan after 8 months has proven ineffective…I am no better off. I have just rolled out of bed from an intense attack at 5am this morning ….relpax…phenergan…frova…my only allies. The list of prevention mess I’ve taken over the course of more than 3 decades would fill an entire page…..I give up….I’ve been absent from for quite some time as its so difficult for me to read over and over others with the same issues I deal with daily and see nobody really improving..or maybe for such a short while. I truly can’t read more because…and please don’t anyone get angry with me….it’s too depressing to see we can’t be helped…not really……for those who have med cocktails that work I am so glad for all of you…even if they need tweaking every now and then……for me…there isn’t more tweaking….I have grown to weary. The move to Atlanta to be close to a first grand child has proven disastrous weather wise. Grandchild number two is due December 1… As I sit in my brand new house of 19 months….with the weather mix that doesn’t…I think of sunny days…blue skies..purple mountains….that didn’t squeeeze my head like this….unbelievably squeeze.

    I encourage all to stick with your plans…share your ideas..I’m fresh out.


  • Luna
    5 years ago

    Janet, After a lifetime of migraines but chronic only 15 years (am almost 70) something has changed. I don’t know why except that I started 4-5yrs ago eating a very healthy diet, keep on schedule, take some supplements, garden in warmer weather, and walk not quite daily in winter. Haven’t had an extreme week waster attack for a year. I have varying symptoms of silent migraine daily. Once a week will have a mild migraine always related to being around odors for too long.
    I don’t know how long this will last but I’m able to be productive every day, some more than others, and I thank God every day for this change. I do know all too well the depression and hopelessness of only getting worse.

  • jennyhart
    5 years ago

    Sitting here typing this with a barking dog and each noise is like a knife through my right eye straight to the back of my skull. I am currently off ALL preventatives and doing a Whole30, which is essentially an elimination diet for 30 days: no grains, dairy, legumes or sugar & only organic, grass-fed meats and lots of fruits & vegetables. I’m also eliminating all potential migraine trigger foods. So far my daily headache is MUCH worse, but I am praying that with the continuation of this diet I will feel better. I, too have never had a preventative regimen that has worked in over 10 years of at least twice weekly migraines. Botox worked, and then didn’t. I don’t tolerate any triptans, and the only medication I can currently take is phenergan. Am d as you all you know, that’s not a great rescue plan. I avoid the bright light, noise and smell of the ER like the plague when having a migraine. In fact, I have never sought treatment in an ER. But the recent increased intensity and frequency may drive me to it.

    I have heard that there have been some folks who have been able to specifically identify triggers upon reintroducing foods one at a time after coming off of an elimination diet, sometimes ones that surprised them. Overall, I am at my wits’ end, so an elimination diet doesn’t seem like too much to do, especially if it will lead to increased knowledge about how NOT to trigger migraines. I am also hopeful that a diet rich in anti-inflammatory foods will help with the other sources if incessant pain with which I deal daily.

    I would strongly encourage any of you who are in the same boat as me to try an elimination diet. Food truly is medicine, when used properly. I would love to connect with any of you exploring this.

  • laurawestkong
    5 years ago

    I tried an elimination diet out of desperation a few years back when dealing with severe chronic pain from autoimmune problems. Found out that wheat is my worst migraine trigger.

    I went from 15-20 headache days/month to 1-2/month, maybe 3 or 4 a month if the weather is unfavorable. (Hormones and barometric pressure changes are my other triggers). From severe migraines down to now I usually don’t have to take anything more than strong coffee. They’re still migraines, just really mild ones.

    If you have dietary migraine triggers an elimination diet should help you discover them if done right. If your triggers are not food-related, of course changing your diet will never help. But if you don’t try you’ll never know.

    These days I eat very close to whole 30 (low grain/sugar/dairy, lots of veggies and fruits, organic pastured grass-fed proteins). A healthy diet makes a real difference in my energy and pain levels and general sense of well-being.


  • Janet
    5 years ago

    Save yourself from more sorrow, migraine intensity and suffering. Elimination diets don’t work in the long run. Your headaches won’t improve much. as you say yours for worse…you will get a small breakthrough..maybe even 3-4 days migraine free….but BAMM!!!! The monster will return. I am trying to wean myself from a kerogenix meal plan that my doc said would be the cure all…not entirely…no good doc will ever say that. But to be completely honest…I’m tired of gluten free, sugar free, fruitless..except for strawberries …blueberries…and blackberries… 20-30 carb max, no dairy..(which I couldn’t eat before..and of course the norm triggers ) food free basically. My breakfast smoothie is great…coconut milk 7 ounces – 1 T fresh almond butter – 1 T Greek yogurt – 1-1/2 cups of fresh or frozen berries listed above…blend in my vitamix and breakfast is ready. High protein foods, fish and chicken and tons and tons of greens…..but I’m sick of salad…sick of chicken…and salmon and tilapia and ahi and cod and sea bass…I cannot eat out or I’m slammed….can’t vacation cuz I get slammed…can’t visit sick elderly parents in Chicago cuz I get slammed when I can’t eat in my own kitchen. Do I sound bitter…yes..I guess…just tired tired tired and worn out. I can confidently say I have tried a lot…certainly not everything…but I’m finished…and I’m not looking for pity…I just don’t want to play anymore….I pray for guidance….

    My prayers are with all of you.


  • groberts
    5 years ago

    I’ve had complex migraines for over 40 years. Now I try to take as few meds as possible. Detoxing off of anything that even vaguely relates to cardiac, neurologic or psych meds is hellish, to say the least. Detox off of meds has given me some of the worst migraines of my life. So I now limit what I take, which is 1/2 a sumatriptan pill and two tylenols at the most twice in a day and never more than four days in a week. I usually just take one dose per day and if I do, stop after the third day. If I continue on meds, the rebound is severe. So, cardiac meds are necessary but limited as much as possible. I’m going to try a run of gabapentin, both for the headaches and more so for nerve damage. If I have to stop it, there will be a rebound and a short stay in the local hospital. Topamax worked very well but in time, it affected word finding, memory and balance. Stopping that was lousy.

  • Michele Deneau-Sheeley
    5 years ago

    Maybe I’m not to this point, but being a single mom who has to earn the money, get the kids to school, take care of things, I don’t have time for down time let alone not be able to take migraine meds. I take Relpax as needed. Of course, it is more often than they recommend, but I have to keep going. I haven’t tried a preventive med, but have considered it. I’m sensitive to meds, so I hate to try something different when Relpax is working for me. I’m also MCS and pre-menopausal so I have many triggers as well that I try to control, but sometimes it is better just to go with the flow. I also use Young Living oils to help with mild migraines, but it usually ends with Relpax but at least it stretches it a bit between doses. Any response or comment is welcome.

  • AshleyH
    5 years ago

    This is me…over and over. I, too, see a doc at Jefferson…went through the gamete of docs at Georgetown (including 4 decompression surgeries at Georgetown for migraines)…went through Hopkins. My best luck was detoxing medically through Jefferson for 10 days. IV infusions and taking me off of ALL narcotics and meds that I had been reliant on…came out on minimal medications and was migraine free (maybe 1-3 breakthrough migraines…but was a daily 6-8 pain scale for several years) for over a year…then I was rear ended in a car accident and it has all started again. The meds, the changes, the yoga, meditation, weight loss, therapy (because you KNOW it’s all in your head, ugh)…and so it begins again…I see a specialist outside of Baltimore now…since Hopkins didn’t really “know what to do with me” and I do it all again…no narcotics this time..just dealing with it and revisiting meds that I haven’t tried in years to see if anything will help again…it sucks…I just told my doc that we really need a migraine support group around this area…I feel really alone and sometimes don’t know what to do and how to navigate all of this on my own…

  • Janet
    5 years ago

    Migraine groups are out there….but so far and few between in states I don’t live in…and when I found one…could,never make it…yep you guessed it…I had a migraine on those evenings…and who of us can drive at night anyway??? Headlights in my eyes are a sure trigger….so here we all,are…spread out and alone…….we get it…nobody else does.


  • jennyhart
    5 years ago

    There are only 4 headache specialists in the entire state of Colorado and I have been to 3 of them. I can completely feel the frustration in your words. I will pray for you. This road is so lonely when you have no one around who really gets it, through direct experience.

  • body
    5 years ago

    Hi Katie,
    Interesting article. In 2001 when I was diagnosed with chronic migraine, I was given the additional diagnosis of MOH related to my overuse of Imitrex. It was my “miracle drug” and to maintain my hectic lifestyle I was up to 18 pills, plus injection and nasal spray. I was told by my doctor that I had to find other methods of managing my migraines. He switched me to Relpax, with the instructions to use it judiciously and look at trigger and stress management, healthy lifestyle habits, along with acupuncture and other complementary therapies to lessen my dependence. I had been taught biofeedback and diaphragmatic breathing at the migraine clinic but I have to admit that I did not take the time to practice. I approached acupuncture with reluctance (I have over 25 years teaching and consulting experience in critical care nursing and was no the least bit interested in “alternative” medicine).
    The first couple of months were awful, worst migraines I ever had, even with acupuncture twice a week but my husband would not let me give up, nor would my doctor. I had to see him a couple of times for some “rescue medication”.
    At this point, I had to give up my dream of a doctoral degree and a tenured position on my nursing faculty because of my migraines so I had lots of time to reconnect with biofeedback, learned to meditate and completely switched my eating, sleeping habits, etc.
    Today, as much as I hated it at the time, I am forever grateful to the doctor who told me I had MOH (I had no idea) and set me on a path to wellness.
    A word of caution, it is never wise to detox yourself from medication without your doctor’s knowledge as many of the preventive medications should be weaned off gradually because of blood pressure and other influences 🙂

  • Nicole
    5 years ago

    My local specialist had me up to 3 daily preventatives and I was feeling incredibly awful (migraines and crazy side effects) when my specialist at Hopkins suggested she take over managing my meds at my last Botox appointment. And yep, first suggestion was cut everything. I have my GP at the ready with Toradol and a standing order for outpatient IV infusion at Hopkins, both of which I have used once so far even though I am back to near daily headaches. Only a few more weeks to go before I am back at Hopkins at which time they are going to revisit the idea of inpatient IV infusion based on the outpatient results and look at which preventative I get to try next. Watch out with relying on the DHE- the reason my Dr did not want to do an inpatient infusion before trying outpatient was DHE is becoming harder to get so she wanted to make sure I had a positive experience with it before throwing too much of it at my migraines.

  • Jules2dl
    5 years ago

    I have had several unintentional detoxes over the years, plus a few intentional ones as well. Financial issues were to blame many times when I could not afford my meds and was forced to quit them.
    At other times I chose to go off of my meds because the side effects were seriously interfering with my life, and I was still getting migraines anyway.
    Freedom from side effects was great, until the migraines came back with a vengeance (which they always did).
    I’ve never, ever been on a preventative regimen which I could clearly discern to be effective. Still, I’d rather try anything and at least have hope than do nothing at all.

  • tucker
    5 years ago

    “I’ve never, ever been on a preventative regimen which I could clearly discern to be effective. Still, I’d rather try anything and at least have hope than do nothing at all.”Jules2dl

    Ahhh, words to live by. In all the 10 yrs+ that I’ve been taking a preventative medicine for migraines, these very words could have come out of my mouth. However, about a month ago, at a very low point in my life, I almost self-detoxed from ALL my medications. In fact I did for 1 & 1/2 days. Then I gave up, mostly b/c some of them are for a heart problem and allergies and asthma and well, even if those silly migraine meds weren’t working, I probably should be taking those and since I was taking those, what the heck, I might as well take the rest of them……

    Ironically, the one constant – topamax. 5 doctors- from my original PCP to the 3rd neuro. They have tinkered with the dose way up and then down. They have added everything from antidepressants to blood pressure to Botox. I’m now on 5 preventives from the neuro and if you count anything on that “too many options to give up list” I could probably count about 4-6 more of my daily meds. It seems the more I try to downsize, the more I seem to add. Ah well, at least the pharmacy sends me a Christmas card every year!

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