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My Brain Hurts

The Migraineur's Own Home Page

Migraine Self Defense

There are several things operating when you have a migraine, some of which don't help at all:

  • Lack of sympathy from employers and others 
  • Anxiety that you might not be able to kill off the pain or get home in time 
  • The need to stash medicines and coping equipment.  Some of the advice there goes for hot flashes, too!  
  • Taking care of yourself.  

Here are some page links to combat those:

I hope this page will help you to deal with each of these obstacles successfully.  Everything on here is based on my own experience -- and I've had migraines since September 1964, so I've test-driven an awful lot of them.

Legal Help

God bless FMLA!  This is the Family and Medical Leave Act which allows you up to 12 weeks of job-protected medical leave per year.  It can be all at once or intermittent leave (the kind you need for recurring illnesses like migraines and asthma attacks.  "Job-protected" means that your employer cannot fire you for being out.  If you need to be replaced while you're gone, you are guaranteed an equivalent job when you do return.  You sometimes are asked to refile after every 6 months (since qualification is a "rolling period.") 

Check with your Personnel department to get your company's forms, etc.  You cannot be denied FMLA coverage, it is your right -- but do your research for your area.  A small employer may be exempted, I don't know for sure.  Be forearmed if you think you may have any problems with your company.

Finding a Good Doctor

Not every doctor is up on the medications available.  Not every doctor is sympathetic to the migraine sufferer, but the good news is this attitude is changing due to enlightened medical schools.  

Write down any pattern your migraine follows.  What will trigger an attack?  Include anxiety, if that does the trick.  Write down every cure you have ever tried and whether it worked.  Include even the bizarre ones:  my telling my pain-in-the-ass doctor that I'd once pounded my head against the wall HARD because that helped, got her to take me seriously.  List all the medications you regularly take including over the counter medications, any medical conditions you have (or had), what you eat, your exercise, etc.  No telling what clue may help.

See Good Medicines and  Bad Medicines

Good Medicines to Try

Take this list to your doctor.  One of these may work for you.  I switch off between Amerge (1 mg) and Imitrex (50 mg) -- you can see the dosages aren't equivalent.  I started with the lowest Imitrex dosage, but had to take two tablets a couple of hours apart.  Anyone who has a migraine knows that's too long to wait.  50 mg of Imitrex kicks in in about 20 minutes (like magic!).  A warning:  do not mix these medications together.  If you switch from one to the other, allow 24 hours between.

  • Imitrex  (sumatriptan)
  • Amerge (naratriptan)
  • Zomig (zomitriptan)

The advantage of all of these is that I can work and function normally if I take them soon enough at the start of an attack.  Most kick in quickly.  There are nasal sprays of some which are fastest of all, but which you gotta go somewhere private to administer.  Call me old-fashioned, but snorthing anything in public is disgusting.

It's a sad fact that most of these run about $9.00 a tablet.  I'm lucky to have an insurance program that allows me to either fill prescriptions for a $15 co-pay at the local pharmacy or get a 90-day supply from a mail-order pharmacy for $15 bucks per prescription.  Can't beat that!  See if you can get mail-order service.  Imitrex and Amerge come 9 to a package, so I always ask my doctor to write each refill for 18 tablets each time.  

Bad Medicines to Avoid

This ties in with finding a good doctor.  If you find a doctor prescribing this sort of thing, carefully examine his or her attitude before following the advice.  No matter how much more you like being stoned than you like having a headache, these will do nothing for you, your headache or your ability to work or function while having one.  And try to figure out if you have one of those "bad doctors" whose rule of thumb (especially towards women) is "drug the bitch and shut her up" -- an utterly loathesome attitude that should send you packing.

  • Narcotics -- they kill pain, but may lay you out flat instead of functional.  Once the dose wears off, the pain of the migraine is right there, bigger than ever.  You may also have a helluva hangover to cope with, too.
  • Antidepressants -- use with extreme caution.   The side effects of many are worse than the migraines are.  Be especially cautious of Prozac-happy prescribers.  That stuff can land you in the psych ward, so I'm extra prejudiced against it.
  • Liquor -- it makes you sicker and enough alcohol to knock you senseless will also give you a fun hangover.
  • Combinations of prescription drugs -- I once had a prescription for codeine and valium given me for a back injury.  it cured the back and a simultaneous headache, but also turned me into a banana slug.  And all subsequent doctors I've mentioned this to have said (more or less) "Jeezus Christ!"
  • Excedrin Migraine -- this may get me sued, but all this stuff does for me is make the headache stronger and me utterly, barfing all over the place nauseous.
  • Ergot, ergotamine, Caffergot -- much the same as Excedrin Migraine

Getting Through a Migraine

The first thing you do is get rid of the guilt and declare firmly to yourself that you are the one you have to take care of and that there is NO reason for you to feel guilty about taking care of yourself or about even having a migraine.

That out of the way -- let's get down to work. 

Migraines During the Day

A nap kit:  I have a "nap kit" at work so I can take a quickie if I need to.  20 minutes of darkness and solitude do wonders -- and that's about the same as a coffee break (which you are guaranteed by law, should you have to get stern and remind someone).

Lying on your side on the floor can be more comfortable than you think, especially if you use a seat-cushion for a pillow like I do.  it hold my head up and my neck straight so my shoulders don't get squashed.  

Except for the pillow, the kit goes in a miniature duffle bag I can keep in a drawer:

  • A pillow:  I use a spare seat cushion off an old sofa.  I cover it with a cotton pillowcase because it's prickly.
  • A blanket:  K Mart sells fleece "car throws" very cheaply.
  • A face mask:  Because most rooms aren't dark enough. Get them at the drugstore.  Face mask notes.
  • A minute minder with a loud, obnoxious ring.  You may have to test drive a few, but be sure you get something that will wake you.  Mine's a cute chrome chicken and cost $25 but the cheaper ones were inaudible or broke quickly.  I park mine up near my head, under the blanket.
  • A hard-shell glasses case if you need it or a contact lens travel kit (Boston makes a dandy one with everything in it including a new case). 

Lie down on your side, mask on, and empty your mind.  It takes practice to actually be able to stop feeling guilty or thinking about work, but you can learn to do it.  You're entitled!

Night Comfort

Or "how to get through a night migraine without driving your partner nuts."  As I said, this works for hot flashes, too.

Sometimes curing a migraine involves being warm or getting cool where you need it -- and often both at different parts of your body at the same time.  How do you do that and not disturb your partner?  

Sleep on top of the bed, not in it, that's how.

Supplies to get in beforehand:

  • A bedspread:  I mean one you can sleep on top of.  Most bedspreads are made of itchy-scratchy, hot synthetics.  100% cotton  is comfortable and washable.  Notes.
  • Two throws, one heated, one not.  Throws are easier to shrug on and off as you need to adjust your warmth or coolness needs.  You can find the electric ones starting in the fall.  Pounce!
  • A MiraCool band or two -- click here for more Information.
  • A heating pad and a cotton pillowcase to cover it, because most heating pads are covered in the same sort of itchy prickly stuff that bedspreads are.
  • A body pillow -- if you usually use one.  They keep your back from hurting when you lie on your side.  Note.
  • A regular pillow to use the usual way and along with the headboard and wall.
  • A headboard or wall:  Don't laugh.  This comes in handy.  When you put the heating pad on your forehead, you lie flat on your back and prop a regular pillow against the headboard on top of it.  It puts just enough weight down on the pad and your forehead to feel great.
  • A face mask so you have total dark.  You can also use a folded up scarf as a blindfold -- it gives you an exotic, kinky look.  Fold them on the bias and they'll stay put better.  Face Mask Notes.

Home Remedies

Some of these are definitely not endorsed by the medical establishment, but I've had success with all of them in the past.  In a pinch, they can't hurt -- but mixing the over the counter drugs should be done as seldom as possible.  Tell your doctor if they work.  There may be a safer alternative.

Food -- based on the idea that "whatever  I have a craving for will make me feel better."  You'll notice most of these are things you can grab straight out of the refrigerator and shovel into your mouth.  Speed counts!

  • A whole pint of Hagen Dazs Vanilla Swiss Almond or Cookies and Cream.
  • A cup of hot green pea soup heated with ginger in it and served with a dab of cold butter melting into it.
  • An enormous bowl of gazpacho with extra hot sauce in it.  (Recipe)
  • Chocolate, the gooier the better and never mind that people think it causes migraines in the first place.
  • A steak eaten with hot salsa.
  • Potato pie -- takes an hour to prepare and cook, but you can nap while waiting.  This puts me to sleep immediately. (Recipe)
  • Cottage cheese with mandarin oranges or applesauce stirred into it.
  • Sweet cereal (Maypo, Quaker Toasted Oats Honey Almond, Sugar Corn Pops, Frosted Mini-Wheats, etc.) with buttermilk poured over it.
  • Crispix with heavy whipping cream.
  • Eggs -- any style.  Scrambled eggs made with yogurt instead of milk are very good.

Over the counter medicines taken BEFORE the food:

  • Two aspirin and two OTC sleeping pills chased down with a cup of hot soup.  (This is probably toxic.)
  • Sinus headache medicine
  • Extra Strength Pamprin (or Midol if it doesn't make you faint like it does me).

Physical weirdnesses -- or maybe not:

  • A sharp touch -- I find a light, sharp pressure in the center of my forehead chases the pain.  You could tie on a small rock with a headband or use the forehead piece of one of those wrap-around-your-glasses style sunglasses.  
  • Another spot that chases pain when touched is high on my cheekbone -- that's harder to arrange, but one of my old cats used to come sleep with his paws around my neck and his chin on my cheek when I had a headache (honest!).
  • Acupressure -- some people swear by pressing hard on the fleshy part of your hand between your thumb and forefinger.  All it does for me is hurt, but maybe not for you.
Comments on all the above are welcome.  Click here!

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