By

Ketogenic Diet for Migraine: Too Much Weight Loss

ketogenic diet for migraine weight lossElementary school is the last time I weighed this little. I’m not bragging, I’m worried. I was at my ideal weight when I began the ketogenic diet for migraine in January. My dietitian wanted me to lose a couple pounds at first to kickstart ketosis. 17 pounds disappeared in two months. I knew I was too thin, but the weight loss seemed temporary and manageable. Until I lost three more pounds in the last couple weeks and crossed from too thin to frighteningly so.

You may be thinking I’m lucky or that this is a problem you wish you had. I expect you’d reconsider if you saw me without a shirt on. My sternum is pronounced and my ribs are clearly countable. I look sick. I do not feel lucky. I feel sick.

Talking about unintentional weight loss is a strange thing. I used to think it was the same as unintended weight gain, just in the opposite direction. Then I gained weight on cyproheptadine and discovered how different the two are. Weight gain is almost always reviled in this culture; weight loss is typically celebrated. I see a skeleton reflected back at me in the mirror, but people keep telling me how good I look.

I am on the ketogenic diet for migraine—that is, I’m on the diet to become healthier. Yet I keep losing weight that I’m trying to keep and am likely malnourished. Neither of these things is entirely unexpected. A less extreme version of the diet is popular for weight loss and it’s well known that ketogenic diets are not nutritionally complete. The surprise is in how much difficulty I’m having managing the diet. I didn’t expect so many different, complex variables. I certainly didn’t expect to drop to a pre-puberty weight.

P.S. I’m working with my dietitian and naturopath to increase my weight and correct nutritional deficiencies. The problems I’m having with the diet are solvable. Right now I’m feeling overwhelmed by how quickly the issues escalated and expect I will be on edge until the numbers on the scale increase.

By

Meditation for Pain Relief Doesn’t Use the Body’s Natural Opioids

meditation for pain reliefResearch has fairly well established that meditation for pain relief can be a powerful tool, but HOW it helps remains a mystery. One hypothesis is that meditation employs the body’s naturally occurring opioids to control pain. This is what happens when you stub your toe—it hurts at first then it stops hurting when your body produces opioids to block the pain. This opioid theory is incorrect, according to a study published today in the Journal of Neuroscience.

The drug naloxone, which blocks the pain-reduction opioids can provide, was a key part of the study. Researchers divided 78 healthy, pain-free participants into four groups: naloxone plus meditation, naloxone without meditation, saline placebo plus meditation, and saline placebo without meditation. Pain was induced by using a thermal probe to heat a portion of participants’ skin to 120.2 degrees Fahrenheit. Participants used a sliding scale to rate their pain. Each participant established a baseline pain rating before receiving any treatment. The pain ratings after the treatment were 24% lower than baseline in the group that meditated and received naloxone. The ratings were 21% lower than baseline in the meditation group that received the saline placebo. Pain levels were higher than baseline in the groups that did not meditate, whether or not they receive naloxone.

These pain reduction levels are significant because they show that meditation reduced pain even in people whose opioid receptors were chemically blocked. Thus indicating that non-opioid pathways are responsible for pain relief in meditation. Further research is required to determine which pathways might be at work. It will be interesting to see if those pathways (whatever they are) have already been identified as having a role in pain relief.

Although the study included healthy participants who experienced fleeting pain, the lead researcher says the findings could be particularly helpful for people who want to avoid opioids or have built up a tolerance to them—the latter of which implies people with chronic pain. He did not condemn other treatments, but said that meditation can be used to enhance the benefits of other treatments.

Whenever I share anything about pain, I feel the need to clarify that most headache disorders are not just pain. Migraine, cluster headache, and even new daily persistent headache have symptoms that extend beyond pain. Focusing only on the pain diminishes the non-pain symptoms that can be just as, or even more, disabling than the pain. It can also lead to ineffective or even harmful treatment. I’m not worried about that with meditation, but it’s still good to remember that pain isn’t the only symptom for most headache disorders (though I doubt most of you could forget that!). In addition to it’s potential to reduce physical pain, meditation is a great tool for managing the emotional distress that comes with headache disorders. And, as Alicia pointed out in the discussion on acceptance, “the psychological aspect of having migraines can be just as devastating as the physical aspect.”

 

By

Gastroenterologist, Adderall, and Migraine Status

Gastroenterologist & Headache Specialist

I’m sorry to report that I didn’t learn much from the gastroenterologist (I know many of you were eager to hear something that might help you). He doesn’t think it’s a functional GI problem, but is a neurological problem. He said he’d be willing to do the tests if I wanted them. I went in thinking I’d do them no matter what he said; now don’t think I will. After four years of exploring other avenues, I am inclined to agree with him that the issue is neurological. I asked about using preventive migraine meds that would target the neurotransmitters and hormones that are released at the start of digestion. He shook his head and said he was sorry that he couldn’t help with that. I asked my headache specialist the same day and got more information, but still the same outcome—it is impossible. He said that the body is flooded with neurotransmitters during digestion. It would be impossible to pinpoint which one or ones are problematic. Even if we could, it’s unlikely there are drugs that work on those neurotransmitters.

My headache specialist did confirm that there’s a small set of people who have migraine attacks triggered by eating anything. I told him that it almost seemed reasonable to stop eating for a couple weeks. He told me about another patient whose migraine attacks are triggered by eating—she wound up in inpatient treatment for eating disorders because she was so afraid to eat. He also said that she’d been in the week before me and was doing great. He couldn’t remember what drug she was on, but was going to look into it for me. I’m about to call the office now and will report if I get any information.

My chart notes from the headache specialist say, “I told her that it is important that she obviously continue to eat, and that if we find the right preventive regimen she will be able to eat without triggering an attack.” It summarizes much of the appointment. He also made it clear that he understands that my case requires straying way off the path of typical preventives. We’ve been off that path for a long time, now we’re on the verge of proceeding as if there were no path at all. He prescribed Celebrex and Adderall for preventives (more on that in a minute). And, if those don’t work, we’ll try monoamine oxidase inhibitors. MAOIs used to be used a lot for migraine preventive, but require strict adherence to a restricted diet to avoid a life-threatening reaction. Good thing that my ability to adhere to such a diet is so well-established. That drips with sarcasm, as it should, but I’m game if MAOIs are effective for me.

Adderall

What those of you with fatigue want to hear about is the Adderall. My headache specialist has several patients who have had a reduction in migraine attack frequency on stimulants. I tried Ritalin a few years ago. It wasn’t an effective preventive for me, but it gave me energy… for a week. Then it did nothing. I’ve been on the Adderall for just over three weeks now. Whether it’s working as a migraine preventive is still up for debate. What it is doing is giving me enough energy that I’m not glued to a horizontal surface all day every day. It’s not giving me crazy amounts of energy, more like returning me to my energy levels on non-migraine days in 2014. I’ve been terrified that it wouldn’t last, so I’ve been cramming in as much activity as possible.

Three weeks in, it feels a little more like the energy is here to stay, but three months is the critical point for me. I’ve had some drug side effects last that long, then disappear. I don’t think my energy is a drug side effect, but I still can’t believe that it will last. I have had slightly less energy in the last week than in the two previous weeks, but I’m holding out hope that’s diet-related.

I expect Adderall is probably only providing me with symptomatic relief. I’m OK with that, but am hopeful it will also work as a migraine preventive.

Why I’m Not Writing

For more than a year after I started taking DAO, all I wanted to do was write. I had a million other things I wanted/needed to attend to, but writing was my priority. Now it’s like pulling teeth. It doesn’t feel like I have cognitive dysfunction in day-to-day life, but trying to write tells me otherwise. It’s not enough to interfere with decisions or driving, or even show up in most conversations. But it’s enough that I can’t do my highest levels of mental activity—like reading medical journal articles and writing.

I’m using my physical energy to do the other thing I’ve daydreamed about: work on my house. I’m in the middle of painting the kitchen cabinets and have enlisted Hart’s help in moving furniture. I’m planning which cork flooring I want to replace the bedroom carpet with and choosing color schemes. I’m thinking about which plants will fill our yards. I don’t know how much we’ll be able to do right now (either ourselves or hiring someone), but at least there will be a plan in place that I can execute even if I’m laid up.

Migraine Status

I still have a migraine attack every time I eat, but I only have to take Amerge to stop it (not Midrin, too). The migraine doesn’t knock me out within five minutes of eating; sometimes I can wait an hour after eating before taking the triptan. And the triptan keeps me from feeling anything more than minor migraine symptoms before it does the trick. It seems ridiculous that this feels like progress, but I’ll take what I can get.

I’m still on the same diet—eating anything else results in a migraine that drugs don’t eliminate. Those migraine attacks aren’t too bad, but do sap my energy for the next day or two (even with the Adderall). Since I don’t believe the Adderall will last, I’m not willing to waste a single day. I’m also still eating only once a day. That’s so I only have one migraine a day and can keep an Amerge in reserve in case another trigger, like odors, set another attack in motion. Tolerex (the feeding tube formula) became a trigger this spring; I’m planning to try it again in the hope that a two-week reset will help reduce my food sensitivity.

The Adderall or Celebrex could be responsible for my reduced sensitivity, but stopping the probiotic might be, as well. I have no doubt that my GI symptoms were caused by the probiotic and there’s a good chance my renewed sensitivity to all food was, too. I stopped taking it in late August and my GI symptoms have been slowly resolving since then (they are almost completely gone). It would make sense that I have a gradual reduction in migraine frequency as well. It took three months of a ridiculously high dose of probiotics for the GI symptoms to start and six for the food sensitivity to return in full force. So I tell myself it took six months to get into this mess, it will take at least as long to get out of it.

I’m Not Gone for Good

I’m not sure how much posting I’ll be doing for a while, but will be back soon(ish). I hope to at least respond to comments in the next few weeks. I miss interacting with you all and I miss writing. I am, however, pretty happy with how my kitchen cabinets are coming along.

(I don’t have the brainpower to edit this post. I appreciate you muddling through the typos and hope it makes sense.)

By

Soaring Prescription Drug Prices: Pharmaceutical Companies Pressured to Justify Pricing

Drug Prices Soar, Prompting Calls for Justification

prescription_drug_pricesWhat a welcome headline from the New York Times. The cash prices of prescription drugs have always seemed eye-poppingly expensive, but in recent years, the pricing is closer to heart-stoppingly exorbitant. (Obviously that’s hyperbole, but it feels close to the truth. I’ve been researching triptan costs this week. Treximet, a combination of a (relatively) inexpensive generic triptan and an OTC painkiller, costs $71.10 per pill! That’s with a discount with a prescription card.)

Pressure is mounting for pharmaceutical companies to disclose drug development costs, profits for specific medications, and how prices are set, according to the New York Times article. It’s coming from a wide range of sources: doctors, patients, patient organizations, state and federal politicians, the U.A.W. Retiree Medical Benefits Trust, and even Bill Clinton. At least six states have introduced bills in the last year to require drug companies to justify pricing.

More than 100 prominent oncologists call for a grassroots movement to stop the rapid price increases of cancer drugs in an article that will be published in the journal Mayo Clinic Proceedings tomorrow. “There is no relief in sight because drug companies keep challenging the market with even higher prices. This raises the question of whether current pricing of cancer drugs is based on reasonable expectation of return on investment or whether it is based on what prices the market can bear,” they wrote. Although the focus is cancer drugs, these problems apply to all prescription drugs.

Unsurprisingly, pharmaceutical and biotech companies are balking. You’ve heard the explanations: research and development is expensive, something has to cover the cost of all the drugs that don’t make it to market, and  drugs can lower health care spending in other areas. That’s not the whole story, of course. This anonymous comment from the director of a multiple sclerosis drug developer is telling: “We all look at each other and keep pace with each other. Honestly, there is no science to it.” There’s also the fact that Medicare is legally barred from negotiating drug prices—they must pay whatever drug companies charge.

I’m probably more sympathetic to pharmaceutical companies than many patients are. Drug development is expensive and some drugs have a narrow market limited by a small number of patients with a disease. Publicly traded companies have to earn profits.

And yet. How much of pricing is determined by the fact that the person recommending the drug and the one taking the drug usually don’t even know how much it costs? How much of it is price gouging simply for the sake that it can be done? This article only addresses brand name prescription drugs; generic drug prices are also ridiculously high (and rising).

The media has been covering high prescription drug prices with increasing alarm over the last few years. This coverage and awareness-raising are critical first steps, but what do we do next? How can patients fight back? We can sign this petition, which is focused on cancer drugs, and email our state and federal representatives. But what else? I want to DO something, not wait for lawmakers to maybe, hopefully fix the problem. Boycotting the drugs feels like our only potential source of power. Even the most principled of us are unlikely to forgo medication we need to function or live to make a point. I feel trapped and powerless… which, for pharmaceutical companies, is the perfect place for patients to be.

By

8 Ways to Manage Insurance Triptan Limits

insurance_triptan_limitsAs expected, none of you were surprised that people with migraine don’t take triptans for every attack. Although there are many reasons for this, insurance triptan limits keep most of you who commented from getting enough meds to last the month. If you’re in the group whose doctors would prescribe more*, but your insurance company won’t cover them, here are some ways you might be able to increase the number of triptans you get each month. The first four can be done at no additional cost to you; the last four will cost additional copays or have an out-of-pocket cost.

1. Try filling a higher quantity prescription: Not all insurance companies have limits. On an old insurance plan, I was able to get 60 tablets a month for the cost of two copays. Coverage like this appears to be more common with company insurance plans, rather than individual ones, but it’s always worth a try.

2. File an insurance appeal: Insurance companies have a process for doctors to request on override on medication limits. Call the company to find out exactly what information they need and provide it to your doctor. Your best bet is to only ask for a small increase in the number of meds each month. My doctor requested 30 and my insurance company told me they would probably have approved 12, but 30 was way too many.

3. Split pills: Some triptans can be split. Whether or not this will work for you depends on the drug itself, your dose, and your other health requirements. Do not do this without first consulting your doctor!

4. Use tablets: Injections, nasal sprays, and dissolving tablets cost insurance companies more than tablets and are often more limited in quantity. If triptan tablets work sufficiently quickly for you, check to see if your insurance company will allow you more tablets than other forms.

5. Double the copay: Ask your insurance company if you can get the same prescription twice with two different copays. If you normally get six triptans for $15, you might be able to get 12 for $30.

6. Use two different triptans: If you can’t get the same prescription twice, you might be able to get two different kinds of triptans with two copays. In my information survey, this seems to be the most common allowance that insurance companies make. (Talk to your doctor about dosing. Most say to not take two different triptans within a 24-hour period.)

7. Use two different delivery methods: A reader said that her insurance will cover prescriptions for both Zomig tablets and Zomig nasal spray each month. The same would work for others with multiple delivery methods, like Imitrex (sumatriptan) injection and tablets or Maxalt (rizatriptan) ODTs and tablets.

8. Pay cash (with a discount): If your insurance company won’t budge and it’s within your budget, you can pay cash for additional triptans. You pay per pill and price depends on which drug you get and which delivery method you use. I use a drug discount card (GoodRx) or go through HealthWarehouse.com for the lowest prices. Sumatriptan (Imitrex) tablets are by far the least expensive at $1.44 per pill on HealthWarehouse.com and $1.60 per pill through GoodRx (as of today, prices fluctuate). You can check prices for both online. Readers have also recommended Costco.

How do you manage insurance triptan limits?

*Medication overuse headache (a.k.a. rebound headache) is a serious risk that can increase attack frequency and make migraine even harder to treat. Only an extended period without the problematic medication and close consultation with a knowledgeable doctor can determine whether you are at risk.