Wednesday, December 29, 2010


I use to suffer from debilitating migraines a few years ago. The migraines started in college. Who knows? Maybe it was all the “stress” from reading a few hundred text book pages a night or having to “grow up.” At first, I thought I was getting a regular headache and I’d try taking the usual meds like Tylenol or Advil. But that did nothing to alleviate the pounding, throbbing pain located usually over my right eye and the right side of my head. To me, a migraine feels like lighting striking and crackling in my head…incessantly. I can barely talk and I feel like pulling my hair out from the excruciating pain. At its peak, I can barely open my eyes; it hurts to look at any light. I need to be in a dark and quiet room. I can’t move or even lie down. I have to be in a sitting position propped up by many pillows, slightly resting my head. I’m so nauseous it feels like I need to throw up. The times I’ve waited too long to take my meds, I’ve actually thrown up. Imagine throwing up while your brain feels like it’s banging against your skull and it’s about to come out of the top of your head. And all you're doing is dry heaving. Trust me, not fun at all.

Once I learned to manage the pain and became aware of the triggers and symptoms that identify my migraine, I was able to significantly reduce my migraines. 99% of the time, I can tell when I’m about to get a migraine. I have several signs, each time it varies which symptoms I get but it’s the same two or three. Either my neck muscles on one side, usually the right side start to tense up and shoot pain up through my head…pulsating…throbbing pain…boom…boom…boom. Or, I wake up after what seemed like a great night of sleep and I feel exhausted, somewhat spacey, and foggy. It feels like I’m dragging my feet all day until I realize why and that If I don’t take something soon, I’ll have a full blown migraine in a few hours.

Some things that can at times act as triggers are red wine, aged cheeses, too much chocolate, and MSG(mono sodium glutamate) which can be found in processed and Chinese food. Also, when I fly, the change in air pressure can sometimes give me a migraine. I didn’t pass the medical portion of the national pilot’s exam due to this, something about being incapacitated and a danger in the air, if I were flying a plane…whatever…

The first prescription med I took to alleviate my migraine was Esgic. Esgic is butalbital, acetaminophen and caffeine. Esgic worked for a while but then I needed something stronger. So, the doctor put me on a cocktail of butalbital, aspirin, caffeine and codeine. The side effects of these drugs are drowsiness, dizziness, light headedness, severe impairment of judgment, euphoria and sedation. Not to mention that butalbital is a barbiturate. Yes, as in an opiate, a highly addictive substance. Codeine is also an opiate. I barely remember the doctor mentioning something about it being addictive but I really didn’t pay attention. I just wanted a quick fix to my pain. Now looking back and reading the “fine print” on the risk and adverse effects, I wish I had paid a little more attention.  Thankfully, I didn’t become dependent on the butalbital or the codeine.

Since butalbital and codeine are controlled substances, it became a hassle trying to get a prescription every month. So, I started looking for ways to manage the pain that didn’t require a prescription. With the recommendation of a great doctor, I tried Alleve and Excedrin migraine. I take Alleve to relax my neck muscles and Excedrin migraine for the migraine itself. Till this day the over the counter cocktail of one Alleve and one Excedrin migraine for me has worked. I can’t take the recommended dosage of two Excedrin migraine tablets because it really upsets my stomach. It’s crazy that the medication I need to take to alleviate the migraine makes make me queasy and makes my stomach hurt. That’s so absurd! Which gets me thinking about all those prescription drug commercials on the air...

I’m appalled at the side effects of the different prescription drugs that are out on the market. Have you ever really listened to a prescription drug commercial?  In the first part of the commercial, all the positive effects are listed. Then towards the end at a much faster pace, all the negative side effects are listed while the happy music is playing in the background and everyone is smiling. It's kind of eerie...

So, is it worth it...taking meds that have nasty side effects and can be hazardous to your health? It’s really up to each person to decide if the benefits outweigh the side effects. I avoid the use of prescription drugs as much as possible but I will be the first to take them when I really need them. When I’m in the grip of the most excruciating pain with no relief in sight, for me the answer is simple…drugs please! I’ll investigate later what triggered the migraine and then hopefully avoid that trigger in the future. Since my “journey” with migraines, I’ve become more aware of all the side effects a medication has. Whether there are any adverse effects of combining it with other medications. Whether there’s an alternative option, one that doesn’t require prescription drugs. Just because the doctor recommends it, I don’t fully take his word for it. I research what I’m taking. I ask questions, I’m informed. I read the label that’s attached to my prescription. Remember you are the one paying the doctor, not the other way around. It’s your prerogative to ask questions.

Between doing yoga, meditation and taking the time to properly rest and avoiding common triggers, I rarely have migraines that last two or three days. I still get them from time to time but I’m prepared and take the necessary measures to stop it before it becomes debilitating.

Do you know what’s in the medication you are taking?

in love and pleasure,
Holistic Health Counselor

References: Wikipedia