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Don’t Give Up on Finding a Treatment

In the last week, four people have told me that while they are comforted to know that other people have similar experiences with headaches and migraines, they are saddened to learn that their headaches may never go away. This is distressing as one goal for this blog is to encourage people to keep seeking relief.

It’s not as impossible as it seems. While I haven’t found a magic bullet for myself, the vast majority do find a successful treatment. Even after you feel like you’ve tried every possible treatment, you have probably only scratched the surface. There are so many drugs and drug combinations that no one has tried them all (including Paula Kamen and me).

Most folks with headache define success as having their headaches disappear. Doctors have a different understanding. A treatment is successful if a person’s headaches are reduced in frequency and intensity by 50%.

Don’t get angry yet. Many people become headache-free, some don’t. No matter how much education and knowledge a health care provider has, they aren’t mechanics. Unlike a car, uniform results aren’t possible. The human brain and body are too complex to expect that.

But you can get relief. Be aggressive, but give new meds time to work — which may be as long as three months. See a headache specialist, not just a neurologist. If he or she is dismissive, tells you your headaches are all your fault, or that there’s nothing left to try, see a new headache specialist. Take supplements that have shown some success for headaches (under the supervision of a doctor).

Visit a sleep specialist, even if you feel like your sleep is fine (advice that I need to follow myself). Getting good sleep can go a long way toward easing headaches. Talk to a nutritionist. Not necessarily about an elimination diet, but about giving your body the fuel it needs. Try massage and essential
oils. Take yoga classes that don’t focus on sweating and breathing hard, but on taking care of your body and nurturing yourself.

You will get discouraged. You will be exhausted. You will be frustrated. Keep trying; wherever “there” is for you, you’ll make it.

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Self-Care or Alternative Medicine?

I’ve blogged a lot about meds and medical devices, but haven’t really discussed “alternative” therapies. There are two reasons for this. The first is that none of the alternative treatments that I have tried have worked for me, so I don’t think to recommend them. The more important reason is that much of the advice of alternative practitioners is what I think of as simply taking care of myself. I do employ many of the strategies of alternative medicine; I just don’t think of them as alternative.

The non-alternative alternative therapies that I try to follow:

Eat simply prepared produce and meat
Frozen veggies make this much easier and Penzeys Spices make it tastier; both make preparation a snap. I also eat a lot of organic produce and organic free-range meat. Living in the northwest give me an advantage with this; organic is easy to come by and isn’t outrageously expensive.

Avoid inhaling potentially harmful chemicals or substances
Since most artificial scents or offensive odors trigger headaches for me, this is pretty easy. Most of my cleaning products are homemade or from Seventh Generation and candles are beeswax or soy. And, as I’ve already complained, I am careful to find home furnishings that don’t off-gas much.

Avoid potentially harmful food additives
Avoid all forms of MSG, nitrates, nitrites, sulfates, sulfites, and artificial sweeteners, flavorings or colorings. This means skipping almost all convenience foods, sauces and dressings.

Exercise and relax
My beloved yoga is out, but I try to take a short walk every day, even if it is just to my favorite coffeehouse (.8 miles round trip!). Meditation is beyond my grasp, but I do try to lie down, breathe deeply and relax all my muscles for about 10 minutes each day. This is usually when I lie down to go to sleep, but I figure every little bit counts.

Use aromatherapy
Maybe essential oils help my headaches, maybe not, but I love smelling lavender, mint and orange. I smell them straight from the bottle, rub them on my temples, burn them with a candle or put them in a spray bottle with alcohol (is that a harmful-to-inhale substance?) and use them as air fresheners.

Don’t mistake me for a whole health goody goody. These are all steps I try to do, which means that I do them most of the time unless I want to go out for dinner, get my shower really clean, take advantage of high energy days or be lazy. But I do feel better when I follow the “rules.” The days I give in to reading a book and eating cookie dough all day are indulgences that I pay for with more headaches.

(P.S. Many of the foods and products I mention are more expensive than conventional varieties. I stock up on frozen vegetables when they are on sale, burn fewer candles than I used to, and remind myself that meds are expensive too.)