I will never forget the day I had my first migraine.
I was 25 years old and was a teacher. It was a sunny day, and I looked out of the classroom window and suddenly, a strange visual disturbance began. It was as is if someone had taken my picture with a flash camera – you know those squiggly, flashing lines you sometimes see after someone takes your photo? It was like that, and it lasted about 30 minutes. After it disappeared, I was slammed with round two: the worst headache of my life.
I thought I had a brain tumor or some other devastating disease. I called my doctor, and he was able to see me that afternoon. “It sounds like what you experienced is what we call an ‘aura,’” he said. “Have you ever had a bad headache or a migraine before?”
I was sent to an eye doctor, who then referred me to a neurologist. A few exams and tests later, and it was confirmed: I had experienced a “migraine with visual aura.” The scientific term for this kind of visual disturbance is “scintillating scotoma”.
They look like this:
The neurologist prescribed a drug called Hydrocet for the pain, and a drug called Propranolol to use to prevent the migraines from occurring. Hydrocet is an “analgesic combination” drug – it contains acetaminophen and hydrocodone, both of which carry the risk of serious side effects (acetaminophen can cause serious and sometimes fatal liver problems, and hydrocodone is an opioid). Propranolol is a beta-blocker that can reduce the severity and frequency of migraine headaches. The list of possible side effects associated with the drug is lengthy and alarming, so I decided not to take it.
I took the Hydrocet when my second migraine occurred. A third migraine arrived several days later. I wondered if the drug was causing MORE headaches.
Was this going to be my life?
The neurologist wasn’t much help when I went for a follow-up visit and asked about other remedies.
I decided to stop taking the Hydrocet and started learning more about migraine and investigating ways to prevent them from interfering with my life.
If you have experienced a migraine, you know that these neurological events can knock you out of commission, often sending you into the refuge of a dark and quiet room for a day (or longer).
As if suffering from migraines isn’t enough, once the pain is gone, the “migraine hangover” follows.
Important note: If you experience what you believe are migraines, but you have not been evaluated by a healthcare provider, doing so is important. The symptoms of migraine can also be symptoms of serious (and possibly life-threatening) health issues including TIA (“mini stroke”), stroke, and aneurysm. If you have been diagnosed with migraine and your patterns change, or if new or disturbing symptoms develop or your migraines become more severe, it’s important to see your doctor to be sure that something more serious is not the culprit.
Let’s take a look at what migraines are, how to prevent them, and how to treat them.
What IS migraine?
Migraine is a neurological condition that can cause multiple symptoms and is frequently characterized by intense, debilitating headaches.
Migraines differ from other kinds of headaches. Symptoms of migraine are not limited to head pain, and include any or all of the following: