Let My Migraine Take Its Course to Decrease Frequency

I started getting migraine attacks at 19 and for several years just suffered through them unmedicated as best I could. The attacks (about 8 a year) lasted 5 days, with 3 days of intense throbbing pain and throwing up with no ability to keep down any food or water.

At 24, I was introduced to Excedrin. This sometimes relieved the pain, but I very quickly became immune to any help from it and it seemed to worsen my attacks.

A few years later, I discovered that Aleve (naproxen) could sometimes ward off an attack if taken early enough. This worked many times, though I still had an unavoidable attack lasting 5 dsys once every couple months.

Finally, being financially able to seek answers (at 30 years of age) I went to an ENT for a CT sinus scan. I hoped they would tell me a sinus infection was triggering my migraines (because my attacks are always accompanied by severe congestion of my right side sinus). They found nothing. I was referred to a neurologist.

The neurologist seemed very uninterested with my concerns regarding sinus congestion, constant dizziness, and lightheadedness. I wanted to know why, and how, and what kind of migraine I have. He was in a rush. He said an MRI would be pointless. He diagnosed me with migraine and prescribed sumatriptan.

Sumatriptan. Where had it been all my life? Oh, magic pill of normalcy! I was elated to find a drug that truly made a migraine go away.

Alas. Instead of one migraine every 3-6 weeks, I now had at least the onset of an attack every 2 weeks. I voiced this concern to the neurologist, which he quickly dismissed as ridiculous. He said to my face that the migraine frequency was not increasing. When I had just told him that it WAS.

This week I have had the onset of a migraine 3 times, each time aborted by sumatriptan (after unsuccessfully trying ibuprofen or naproxen). I am scared. I do not want to take this drug every other day. I don’t know if a doctor would even prescribe me that much.

I am looking for another neurologist. Meanwhile, I have tried to research this idea online, that allowing my migraine to run its full course, 3 days of vomiting and all, is the only way to lessen the frequency. I can’t find anything to back that up. But in my personal experience, when I experience a full migraine attack, it is several weeks until the next attack. If I abort it early on, stop it in its tracks with medication, I’m just pushing it off- but it comes back in full force a few days later.

Does anyone know what I’m talking about?

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Comments

View Comments (19)
  • mapgirl87 author
    10 months ago

    Thank you all for the supportive comments and advice. Thanks to the wealth of information on this website (and some tidbits of info from David Buchholz book), I came to the conclusion that I am suffering from rebound migraines aggravated by the triptan meds.

    As I search for a headache specialist, I am meanwhile taking action by identifying and eliminating as many triggers as possible. I am on following Kerrie Smyres elimination diet: https://migraine.com/blog/elimination-diet-foods-to-eat-foods-to-avoid/

    This, in conjunction with Whole30 principles and eliminating caffeine (and of course triptans) completely, has allowed me to have several migraine-free days this past month. I wish my neurologist had been more willing to talk about triggers and rebound before I had got into that terrible cycle of headaches, but I am confident that I am starting in the right direction now.

  • ccf23
    10 months ago

    Mapgirl87, this is a really good question. I am chronic going on 6 years now and can speak from my experience. First, you need a doctor that you know is on your side. He or she may not always say what you want to hear, but on the whole you feel cared for. Next, determine if you are episodic or chronic. I was treating my chronic migraines with old episodic advice for a while & I think this made me thoroughly chronic. Specifically, I was treating every headache, tension, migraine, or trigeminal neuralgia immediately with everything I had. I quickly ran out of my triptan allowance so I was prescribed injections in addition. I had 18 full treatments of triptan a month! Well, that did not end well. I changed from a general neurologist to a headache specialist (also very important) & was quickly reduced to 9 days of triptan to treat about 25 migraines a month. So I started cutting them in half thinking I was clever. Long story short, for me, as a chronic sufferer who still has at least 20 a month, I do better by letting some go with minimal drugs and just bearing the pain on selected days.I save some of my advil, fioricet, and tizanidine allowances for these days to be a little more comfortable. I never take any one drug more than two days in a row. While my frequency has not improved much, I have not escalated to days on end of pain that can only be stopped with steroids in months. I do feel that my pain intensity has improved a bit. But total days of suffering is still too many. I now know how to minimize rebound but I am still looking under rocks for answers. Sorry this is so long. Bottom line, find a headache specialist, avoid triptan & other rescue overuse, try all the main preventatives, educate yourself, listen to your body & be kind to yourself. Wishing you the best on your migraine journey.

  • MarciaCooper
    10 months ago

    I would find a neurologist who does Botox treatments and discuss this option with him/her. I have had very good results with it and even though it is does not work for everyone, it is definitely worth a try.

    And yes, I do know what you are talking about, because I was there for many years. I have done my share of sumatriptan and still do have to use it. I am not totally free of migraines, just better than I was.

  • sahndie
    11 months ago

    I know I’m a little late, but I wanted to chime in. Mapgirl87, your experience sounds so familiar to mine a few years back. One thing to note, though, is that migraines sensitize you to more migraines, so stopping (or better yet, preventing them) might be a better method.
    MsMac and Luna, please be careful with the teas! They contain willow bark, from which aspirin is derived, and feverfew, which has been investigated for treating migraine headaches but has shown very little clinical evidence. Combining the tea with other NSAIDs (like aspirin, ibuprofen, or naproxen) could bother your stomach.
    Also, there’s no evidence that turmeric is anything more than a tasty addition to curry. Ginger is decent for relieving some times of nausea, though.

  • Luna
    10 months ago

    Thanks for your thoughts. Ginger just upsets my stomach. Used feverfew many years ago. Some people have had success with it but not me. I’m on a drug holiday and not using aspirin but would try willow bark if I had any. Need something for arthritis pain. A lot of scientific research has been done on turmeric. It is supposed to be an excellent anti-inflammatory and helps some with pain. But alas it is related to ginger and I can’t use it enough to help.

  • scaldrone
    11 months ago

    I also bounced around between doctors a bunch, and for a long time I didn’t treat my migraines with drugs either because nothing I tried worked well and I wanted to avoid the rebound headaches that spring up when the meds wear off. Finding a headache specialist changed my life. Migraines are complicated and there’s a lot more to them than neurology. Now I take a bunch of preventative meds – all of them were designed for something besides headaches – and I have a few options of meds I can take during an attack. I’ve also seen good results from a low-tyramine diet, biofeedback, and sticking to a regular sleep and exercise schedule. I still get migraines and headaches frequently, but the severity has gone way down, and I’m more in control than I used to be. If you can find a doctor who specializes in holistic headache care, it can be a real life-changer.

  • annam
    11 months ago

    Hi Mapgirl87! My mom and I both started the migraine nightmare around age 40 at peri-menopause. This is unusual and perhaps worse because there is no possible end in sight. Over about 25 years I went from episodic migraine to chronic daily. My headache diary showed 5 to 6 days in a YEAR when I felt fairly good and did not have headache.

    Sumatriptan was great for a while but the headaches came faster and faster. I had to change doctors and the new doctor only allowed sumatriptan four times a month. By that time I spent days in bed, screaming day and night.

    Concerning preventive medications, I am the one for whom black box warnings are made. Prescribing anything for me that affects the nervous system is very dangerous.

    However I accidentally got some help six years ago. A nurse practitioner suggested using a crescent shaped pillow under my neck in bed. That seemed to have a slight positive effect on the migraines. I do know that if I lie down without this pillow I will get some level of pain in my neck and head.

    She also prescribed a low dose the beta blocker atenolol. When I was 21 years old I was prescribed a drug that was severely neurotoxic to me. The side effects of one dose were worse than any description of a “bad trip” on LSD. I developed an extremely rapid heart rate–tachycardia–which finally went out of control and nearly killed me in 2012, hence the beta blocker. After a few months of this I noted the migraines were about 25% less.

    The neurologist I was seeing ridiculed me for not accepting more toxic drugs. He laughed at me when I said I wanted to try “injections”. I had a vague idea about prolo-therapy. Part of my diagnosis is trigeminal neuralgia which sometimes starts with pin pricks of pain in my face which travel to my forehead and explode into headache. I have some medical training so decided to do a version of prolo-therapy on myself. With a short insulin syringe I injected about 1 or 2 units of lactated Ringer’s into the sore spots. This stopped some of the sore spots and subsequent travelling of painful nerve impulses which also stopped a few migraines.

    Next step was to find a pain doctor who would do “injections”. I found him in Boise, Idaho. He injects trigger points in my neck, back and scalp with 1% lidocaine. I have read many accounts of Bo-tox treatments and feel I am getting about as much from lidocaine as others do from Bo-tox. I get the injections about every 3 months. Over six years the frequency of migraine has continued to decrease.

    Sometimes I dig my fingernails into trigger points around my neck when a migraine is especially bad. Sometimes this helps enough to allow sleep. I also, now with my doctor’s knowledge, “dry needle” trigger points. This is something like acupuncture but I use an insulin syringe. Sometimes this will start the end of a migraine. I usually know when the headache is resolving because large parts of my body and face will go numb and I will also need to urinate a lot.

    Unfortunately at this time, the headaches I do get are extremely severe and terrifying. There are two or more seeks of severe prodromal symptoms beforehand. I know I am fortunate that anything has helped but I am frequently discouraged because I believe the migraines will never stop. (There seems to be a hormonal component to these late in life migraines. My mom took Premarine and got relief from headaches but subsequently got breast cancer which killed her. I have avoided Premarine and got no help from other hormone therapies. The prodromal symptoms I have before migraine are like bad PMS symptoms times ten. Sometimes I have soaking hot flashes that go on for hours. Doctors find that my hormones are “normal for my age.”)

    I am beginning to think migraine is an inflammatory process that affects everyone differently and that is why there are few even useful treatments.

  • DNAlabratStudy
    11 months ago

    Hi MAPGIRL87, I’ve had migraines since I was two. I’ve almost tried everything. Excedrin is my final go to med. I alternate between Anacin and Excedrin. About four years ago had my first set of cluster headaches. I thought my head was going to explode. My primary doctor (who i miss horrible) was great. She called in a chit and got me into a otolaryngologist. He examined me and asked, “Do you grind your teeth!” My partner shout, “Yes!”. He recommended a mouth piece with the Excedrin or Anacin. Knock on wood it worked. (Not stating this is the issue) Now, I’m back to regular migraines. Thank goodness, I’ve not had any more cluster headaches (knock on wood) Good luck.

  • Carolelaine
    11 months ago

    It’s great to hear that you have found something that works for you. I would be curious to know how long you have been medication free. It would be interesting to know if you have long term positive effects.
    In my case, I had to stop medications because of rebound headaches. When this didn’t reduce my migraines my doctor suggested I stop eating processed and artificially colored or flavored foods. It was very effective for about five years, then things took a turn for the worst and they are back with a vengeance. I am still following the same diet, go to restorative yoga twice a week and massage therapy and acupuncture every other week, I’m still having migraines at least five days out of seven. I’m not sure what my next step will be, I’m hoping that the new medicine that is coming on the market may be an option.

  • Tamara
    11 months ago

    Triptans can only be taken 10 days a month or they WILL increase your migraines (and cause the meds not to work as well). It is called medication overuse headache. I forgot how to link articles but you can use the search function at the top to find articles. I find It’s solid limit for me, 11 days for 2 months in a row will cause the meds not to work as well.

    This is hard part of migraines, Meds stop the attack if taken early enough, but lots of us (me every single month) run out of available days to treat every migraine. I get migraines about 2-4 a week which means I have a handful that I cannot use meds to abort.

    If the doctor does not explain that to you it’s time to change doctors. Unfortunately there is no easy way out now, you need to go cold turkey to reset your brain. It is going to suck, you can use Anti nausea meds to help you through, essential oils, tiger balm, ice, heat can all help and unlimited.

    Other pain meds – Tylenol, Advil, etc etc can be used about 15 days a month. And they are culmative so if you use triptans for 10 days, then you only have 5 days to use the other pain meds,

    Sorry to be the barer of bad news, hope everything settles down for you, there are other things that can help – Botox, muscle rexlantants, etc.

    If you are having too many migraines, there are over 100 medications that can be taken daily to help reduce the amount and severity of them. These take time to test and need to be used for 3 months at the target dose to see if they are efficive or not.

    Have a read through this site, there is TONS of info and tips on how to live with them, hope it helps.
    (And sorry for the bad spelling, I have a migraine coming so lovely brain is very fuzzy)

  • mapgirl87 author
    11 months ago

    Thank you everyone for the support and helpful information!! So glad I came across this group!

  • Joanna Bodner moderator
    11 months ago

    We sure are happy that you found us too @mapgirl87! We hope you find the information and support you might be looking for! Always feel free to reach out…we are always here to lend an ear! Have a good night. -Joanna (Migraine.com Team)

  • MsMac
    11 months ago

    I sure do! I’ve been getting them since I was 12 and have been prescribed multiple medications for them. None worked consistently or continuously. At one point, I found the most wonderful tea, Migrawonder which stopped the worst pain cold but it’s not made any more. It had feverfew, white willow bark and some other herbs in it. Mostly, I manage them with 4 ibuprofen and a half a Xanax (0.25) before I go to sleep. This worked pretty well for years until a family member had a life threatening illness where I was the only one close enough to help. The hospital trips, sleep disruption, and stress all made them spin out. Last week my doctor prescribed prednisone and phenergan to break the cycle which began December 26: 6 for 2 days, 5 for 2 days and so on with 3 phenergan a day (1 tab 3X). The prednisone made me feel like I could circle the globe in a day, and build the Brooklyn Bridge solo the next day. Who needs sleep?? Then the phenergan knocked me out for 15 hours. I’m down to 3 prednisone tabs and feel like Golem in the Lord of the Rings, stretched too thin. My doctor said they were rebound headaches caused by using the medications too frequently.
    When I get out of this labyrinth, I hope I can go back to letting them take their course, have better monitoring of triggers, and boundaries for people who aggravate them by not understanding. I’ve learned a good bit about triggers I never noticed. I hope you all find relief that works for you!!

  • Luna
    11 months ago

    Is this what you used?. Since it is no longer available you could try mixing these ingredients yourself. I am going to try but will substitute turmeric for the ginger.
    Alvita
    Lancaster County Migra Wonder Tea Bags
    Feverfew, white willow bark, ginger, green tea and natural orange flavor.

  • MsMac
    3 months ago

    Sorry Luna. It’s been a while. Yes, that was the product. It was great! I found a substitute that works really well which has feverfew, magnesium, boswellia serrata, and ginger in it. It got me back on my feet and off the other medication. At one point I was on Topamax, which maxed my top out! I would happily have jumped out of my body.

  • SavannahD
    11 months ago

    I let my migraines run their course. I don’t like any of the medications I’ve tried because they do not help and I end up dealing with the side effects as well. My migraines eventually go away on their own.

  • Luna
    11 months ago

    My experience with imitrex was that it worked at first. I did not use it more than 2 or 3 times per month it that. Then one day 8 hours after taking one the migraine returned full force and ran its course. That is the best I could get out of it after that so didn’t refill the rx.
    Do what works best for you. But yes, get a neurologist that listens and cares about your input and doesn’t want to just push pills.
    “Migraines can cause nasal congestion and a runny nose, so they’re sometimes mistaken for sinus headaches.” Harvard Health

  • mapgirl87 author
    11 months ago

    Thank you for your kind input!

  • Luna
    11 months ago

    “per month it that.” IF not it.
    p.s. I am on a drug holiday trying to reset. Ugh!!!!!

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