My Anesthesia Triggered Migraine Attack

Last week, I had major surgery under anesthesia. This was the second time in the last year I'd needed to be put under anesthesia and it was the second time I noticed a challenging, troublesome problem arise when I regained consciousness:

I had a debilitating migraine.

How did I try to prevent the attack?

This time, I guess I had a little bit of a warning. I asked my doctor for extra anti-nausea medication (specifically a scopolamine patch behind my ear) and extra fluids to be run during the procedure, but neither of those requests abated what I awoke to.

Why are hospitals so hard to have a migraine in?

Sensitivity to light, to sound, to the dreadful beeping of the IV machines, the incessant questions from the nurses and doctors, and the continual need to evaluate my vitals.

It was so much to deal with while my head throbbed. And since I was still in an observation unit, not yet admitted, the nurses couldn't order any additional medications for me - including the ones I use at home to abort migraine attacks like this. They brought me ice packs and barf bags and the migraine raged on. I was miserable. Trying not to cry or throw up.

This migraine, even once I got IV medication, took 36 hours to mostly clear up - which was miserable. The hospital is a great place to be in for migraine care, but it's a terrible place to be in with a migraine attack. Theres almost no way to escape any of the triggers.

What did I learn from the experience?

Have you ever experienced a migraine triggered by anesthesia before? After doing it twice, I'd like to share some pointers I have collected over time.

  • Stay calm. It's natural to feel like the world is out of control and/or crumbling, but the calmer you ar the easier it'll be for your medical team to help you, and for you to be taken seriously in expressing your symptoms and your requests for care.
  • If you have a regular abortive migraine treatment at home, communicate this to your inpatient medical team. They're more likely to keep you on your same therapies than to try something new that may or may not work.
  • Ask for ice packs. They're better than nothing and can also be used to block out the light.
  • Hydrate. Beyond what you're getting through your IV, try to drink as much water as you can orally (depending obviously on the type of post surgery/anesthesia restrictions you have).
  • Speak with your doctor before your procedure about your history of migraine and your concern that this may happen after anesthesia. Come up with a plan that works for your situation and parameters before it even happens!
  • As you begin coming out of the migraine, just like at home, stay consistent with additional doses of medication and hydration your body needs for recovery. I didn't do well enough with this either, and I found myself struggling with rebound migraines several days after hospital discharge, complicating my recovery and ability to care for myself.

Did I miss anything?! If you have any tips you'd like you to share, please add them below!

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