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Diagnosis of Migraine & Headache Types

Help understanding my heaches/migraine attacks

  • By carol810

    +JMJ+

    I read the articles on the Migraine.com app often and have tried to educate myself on migraine and headache, but I could use some help. I’m a 34-year-old woman and had my first migraine in my teens (maybe 15?), but have had somewhat frequent headaches since about 7 years old (often in music class, and on the school bus at the end of the day). Migraines were probably once a year until I had my first child at 19, and then (if I’m understanding what constitutes a migraine attack vs. headache correctly), maybe once every three months. After my fourth child was born at age 28, my headaches became chronic – but not until my cycles returned at about 11 mo. postpartum. They were accompanied by neck pain and I mistakenly thought they came from my neck, but after several years I now think it is the other way around. They became a daily occurrence (I’d say migraine attacks were only about four/month?) and were made more frequent and severe with almost daily ibuprofen. When I quit the ibuprofen cold turkey, they did decrease in frequency and severity. When he was 3 1/2, I got pregnant with my 5th child and after the first trimester (which was a headache and migraine nightmare), they went almost magically away and didn’t come back again until… my cycles returned at about 10 mo. postpartum. Same story when I got pregnant with my 6th a few months later… horrible first trimester with migraines and chronic headache, then magically gone until my cycles returned. They’ve been back with a vengeance and now I am 9 1/2 weeks along with my 7th.

    I saw a neurologist for the first time after my 5th baby (or maybe during that pregnancy?), and he diagnosed me with frequent headache and occasional migraine (my first migraine diagnosis). He offered me a prescription to use during an attack, but I never filled it since I am always pregnant and nursing!

    So, here are my questions: what does this say about hormones and migraine for me? (There’s no cyclical nature to them once my cycles do return.) Why do they get worse with each passing year/baby? If they are hormonal in some way, what can I do about it or ask a doctor to do? If it helps, I am hypothyroid and medicated with Armour, and I’d say I’m usually at a TSH between 1-2, but that’s dicey in pregnancy and postpartum. Being overmedicated definitely gives me terrible headaches and migraine attacks. Also, how can I know when I’m over the line from headache to migraine? I find the diagnostic criteria confusing, although I have read it. I just always thought for it to be a “real” migraine attack, it had to be horribly painful, but sometimes I have what I would say is a headache on a pain scale of about 6, but with light and noise sensitivity, mood swings, and hot flashes. Is that a migraine attack?

    For migraine during pregnancy, all they have allowed me to do is take acetaminophen and benadryl, and I also use an ice pack on my neck, Tiger Balm or peppermint or lavender oil on my temples and neck, and drink tons of water or herbal tea. Any other tips?

    I take loads of supplements to help, including a multi, B2, magnesium oil (topically), omega-3, methyfolate, and now I added ginger capsules when a headache comes on.

    Thanks for staying with me!

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  • By Nancy Harris Bonk Moderator

    Hi carol810,

    Thank you so much for your story and questions. Let me see what information I can give you that may help.

    Migraine attacks are not always horribly debilitating. They can be moderately so, in fact, many of us walk around with daily migraine pain. Sometimes it is difficult to tell the difference between a headache and migraine. If this is the case, migraine will usually become worse with activity and a quick test is to put your head between your knees – if your pain increases it’s most likely a migraine attack.

    There are four phases of an attack, prodrome, aura, headache and postdrome, but not everyone experiences all four phases with each attack. Mood swings, trouble concentrating, depression,hot flashes and many other symptoms can all be part of an attack. When you get a moment you may want to take a look at this article about the four phases of a migraine; https://migraine.com/migraine-basics/migraine-phases/.

    As much as I wish I could tell you exactly what type of migraine and/or headache disorder you are experiencing, only a qualified doctor can do that after he/she gives you a complete exam, goes over your symptoms and discusses your medical history and your family’s medical history. Having said that some of the symptoms you describe can be found during a migraine attack. I can’t stress enough how important getting an accurate diagnosis is. This allows us to get the correct treatment and we can also learn all we can about our particular type of migraine and/or headache disorder. Continue reading this article for me on this; https://migraine.com/blog/migraine-management-essential-diagnosis-and-doctors/.

    Fluctuating hormones can be a strong migraine trigger for some women and sometimes when pregnant the influx of estrogen helps reduce attack frequency. I’m going to direct you to our section on women and migraines here which has many topics; https://migraine.com/living-with-migraine/hormonal-migraine-the-basics/.

    Do you know what any of your other triggers are? If we can identify our triggers and learn to avoid them we may be able to reduce our attack frequency and severity. Some of them we can avoid, like dehydration and not skipping meals, but others like fluctuating hormones and changes in the barometric pressure are unavoidable. Keeping a detailed migraine diary can help with this. There are so many apps out there now, it really is easier than ever. Migraine.com has The Migraine Meter here; https://migraine.com/blog/new-migraine-meter-app-available-on-itunes-and-google-play-for-android/ or you can do a Google search for others. Triggers can include but are not limited to certain foods, dehydration, skipping meals, smoking, alcohol, changes in the barometric pressure, irregular sleep schedules and many other things. Here are tips on how to keep a migraine diary you may find helpful; https://migraine.com/blog/keeping-migraine-diary-basics/.

    I’m going to stop now so I don’t overwhelm you. After you go over all this let me know what you think and we can go from there!
    Nancy

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