Some Relief After 34 Years of Suffering
Last updated: November 2021
But first, my history: I am a 45-year-old Caucasian male who endured my first migraine when I was all of 9 years old. For the remainder of my youth and through my early teens, I tried a variety of prophylactic medicines (including beta blockers) and symptom-onset treatments, all with little or no benefit. My migraines just “had to run their course.” On several occasions, I was administered sedatives via injunction just to enable me to sleep.
In my mid-teens, a prescription for Fiorinal initially helped with symptom-onset, but with necessitated frequent use I developed a tolerance and the benefits diminished over time, and the rebound headaches became more severe than the original attack. I ceased Fiorinal at the age of 16 when, after having been struck by a severe migraine and taking the med, I experienced a brief period of relief and decided to go to the local Baskin Robbins. On the return home, I apparently fell asleep at the wheel and hit a utility pole, totaling my Vette (it was a Chevette, not a Corvette ... nothing wrong with a little levity) and nearly lost an eye in the accident. I vowed never to take a narcotic again to treat a migraine and have stuck to that vow no matter how much pain I endure.
Since then, I have relied strictly on OTC (over-the-counter) meds, experimenting with various brands before eventually settling on Excedrin (and later Excedrin Migraine when it became available) as the only, relatively reliable treatment option. Throughout college and post-collegiate life, despite being told by numerous specialists that as I got older my migraines would become less frequent and less severe, the exact opposite happened. With additional stresses, the attacks became more severe, more frequent and longer-lasting.
There being so many triggers and things about migraine I could not control (such as the weather, certain additives or ingredients in food in restaurants, etc), alcohol was one I could control. So, even though I love a good beer and the rare glass of wine or mixed drink, I completely eliminated all alcohol consumption. I have not had a drink of any kind in 18 years. Do I miss it? Yes, but all I have to do is think about the pain it would cause, and it’s easy to resist the temptation.
I am someone who is fully aware of my triggers and manages and avoids them at all possible costs when possible. I am both photophobic (causing me to wear sunglasses even on cloudy overcast days and, frequently, indoors … the incandescent lighting in a Target store being a sure-fire trigger) and phonophobic. A morning or evening without caffeine results in an inevitable attack. And, I typically know when it's about to storm outside a good hour or two before the first raindrop, the first lightning bolt or the first rumble of thunder, with the headache growing more severe with each change in barometric pressure. Based on the level of intensity of my pain, I could predict more accurately the severity of a storm than the local meteorologist with the latest Doppler radar and computer programs. I was like a horse in an earthquake zone. Any change in my sleep pattern was certain to trigger an attack. As I've aged, I have been unable to "sleep-in" on a Saturday morning. In fact, my pattern had evolved (or should I say "devolved") into a circumstance wherein if I slept more than 6 hours, I would wake up in the throws of a full-fledged migraine. I, basically, have been subsisting on 5-1/2 hours of sleep per night for the previous 15-20 years. Needless to say, I was somewhat less than well-rested. But, I soldiered on.
Like a calendar page turning, the change of seasons from Summer to Autumn and Winter to Spring resulted in predictable migraines which lasted days on end with little or no relief. When I was 34, one of these seasonal migraines resulted in an attack which I endured without interruption for 25 days. I went through multiple 100-caplet bottles of Excedrin during that month of hell.
I averaged 4 headaches a week from the time I was 23 years old. Of those 16 headaches a month, most were mild and / or tolerable (meaning, in that I had developed a high threshold for pain, I could still function, I could still go to work, etc., but the pain and discomfort were ever-present). On average, 4 or 5 of those 16 per month were what I would describe as strong or severe (meaning they required multiple doses of OTC meds and usually some time in a dark, quiet room with an ice pack and negatively impacting but not completely preventing my ability to function). Of course, 1 or 2 of those 16 migraines per month could only be described as debilitating, lasting multiple days and inhibiting my ability to perform even the simplest of tasks and resulting in lost work days and time with my wife and children. I got to the point in my late 30s and early 40s where I considered myself fortunate to be able to go 3 consecutive days and /or 7 days total in a month without an attack.
I was the poster boy for male migraineurs.
But, I titled this "Some Relief after 34 of Suffering," and indeed I have experienced that relief. Three years ago, I began experiencing severe pain, tingling and numbness in my left arm. I suffered through it for a week or so before it became so unbearable I asked my wife to drive me to a “doc-in-the-box” (local urgent care clinic). I was in agonizing pain and had grown vastly concerned I was having a heart attack or, at the least, had an arterial blockage which was going to require a bypass or some other open heart procedure. My anxiety level was at an all time high. Upon taking my vitals, the staff at the urgent care clinic advised me they would be unable to help with the pain in my arm because they were sending me immediately to the emergency room at the nearby hospital. My blood pressure was an astronomical 220 over 180. If I wasn’t actually having a heart attack, I certainly was on the verge of one.
In the emergency room, I was given pain management medication for my arm and meds to bring down my blood pressure as rapidly as possible. An EKG revealed I was not having a heart attack but one was imminent had I not sought treatment. In the end, the pain in my arm was caused by a herniated disk pinching a nerve in my neck.
I was diagnosed, however, with mild hypertension (slightly elevated blood pressure) which my doctor decided to treat with maintenance meds. I am on both Lisinopril and Amlodipine(brand name: Norvasc). The Norvasc is a vasodilator which opens up constricted blood vessels. The Norvasc, ultimately, has provided my first noticeable and notable relief from Migraines since I was 9 years old. In the last 3 years, I now average 1 to 2 mild migraines a month, which require no more than two Excedrin Migraine caplets over the course of 6 hours. Then the migraine is gone. I have had one severe headache lasting more than a day since being discharged from the hospital three years ago. Almost having a heart attack, for me, has been transformative. I am likely the only person in the world who is happy to have elevated blood pressure. I have been, in effect, cured of my migraines … for now.
We shall see what the future holds ...
Do you have a migraine toolbox for when an attack hits?
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