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Adjusting to Life WITHOUT Constant Migraine

I always imagined that if I found relief for my migraines, I’d be over the moon and ready to take on the world. Instead, I am cautious and disoriented. It is difficult to believe the magnesium will keep working — or even that my current good spell is the magnesium at all. I wake up each day having no idea if I will have a migraine or a headache and, if I do, what level of pain I will be in. Migraine has been entirely dependable and I’m a bit lost now that I can’t count on it to always be present.

When I awoke around 5 a.m. yesterday to a level 5 migraine, I felt not exactly relieved, but sort of comfortable. Like, after a week of the uncertainty of different head pain and unusually low migraine levels, I was in a familiar place again. Not that I was happy to be there, just that there’s comfort in a well-known situation.

But even that comfort wore off as I realized I didn’t know what to expect from the migraine. Will it worsen? What symptoms will I experience? Will pain be a major factor? These are not questions I typically ask, but I have felt so much better the last few days that I was acutely aware of every aspect of the migraine and concerned what it might mean. The most worrisome question plaguing me was: Am I back to the place where migraine is my default state?

Before I began the mindfulness for health course I took four years ago, I met with the instructor privately for biofeedback. She mentioned that she had just gotten good news on medical test results, but didn’t want to get swept up in thoughts about the results. She said she “didn’t want to be tied to that outcome.” I was puzzled by this and didn’t really understand what she meant. As I have become more familiar with the practice of mindfulness, I have revisited that conversation, never more so than the last week as I attempt to grasp magnesium’s effect on my migraines. The idea is that the teacher could celebrate that she’d gotten good news, but didn’t want to assume that the news would always be good in the future or that her happiness was dependent upon the news always being good.

Not being attached to the outcome relates to the Buddhist idea of impermanence — a concept that I was heavily invested in just last month when the migraines and depression were wearing on me. I kept telling myself that although it felt like the misery would never end, it would eventually lessen. I reminded myself that my migraines had been better as recently as November and that they would lessen again. Now I’m working with the flip side of impermanence. Just because magnesium is helping me now, it may not always help. The fact that my migraines have lessened significantly in the last nine days does not mean I am out of the woods forever.

A friend asked if I was floating around the house in bliss when my pain was at a level 2. Well, I was cooking and dancing and marveling at how little pain I was in, but I was doing so with great care. I don’t trust that I’m going to continue feeling this good. I’m still afraid I’m going to discover that this good spell is an unrelated fluke and the magnesium isn’t really helping at all.

Please don’t think I’m ungrateful or that I’m not thoroughly enjoying this respite. I am uncertain is all. I’ve learned to live with severely debilitating migraine. The possibility that it might no longer limit me so much is overwhelming and seems a but suspicious. I don’t want to get too excited for fear of being let down. Though I dread being wishy-washy, the phrase “cautiously optimistic” captures my attitude exactly.

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Dear Magnesium, Will You Be My Valentine?

My head pain is currently at a level 3. Yes, you read that correctly. Yesterday it was at a level 2 for six hours and level 3 for four hours. Level 2? Level 3? I haven’t had pain levels this low in all the years I’ve been rating it.

I’m kinda afraid that acknowledging the improvement will somehow negate it, but a friend pointed out that if I could have a mental or cosmic affect on the migraines, I would have done so by now. So, I’ll take a deep breath. . . and shout MAGNESIUM! Magnesium is the difference. Last Tuesday I increased my magnesium dose from 500 mg to 700 mg per day and I’ve noticed a change in how the headaches feel as well as their severity.

I’ve still had headaches, but they feel different. The pain is more of a tight band of pressure around my head and moving doesn’t worsen the pain. Stretching under a warm shower and massaging my neck often relieves the pain. These factors add up to tension-type headaches, which, considering how tight my neck and shoulders are (something I was only vaguely aware of when the migraines commanded all my attention), makes sense.

The migraines aren’t gone altogether. Last week I had a couple I’m convinced were triggered by muscle spasms (I was experimenting with pillows) and spent Thursday as a couch zombie. I’ve also aborted a couple migraines when I noticed prodrome symptoms of feeling overheated, trembling, or ice-cold hands and feet.

I haven’t been absent from the blog because of this newfound relief. January was a rough month for me with both migraines and depression. The depression got pretty scary and really pulled me down the last couple weeks, though the last few days have been better. There appears to be a strong connection between how severe the migraines are or how long they last and my degree of depression. I’m not saying I’m depressed because of the pain, but I think something happens in the brain during a migraine that kicks up the depression. I don’t know if there’s any scientific evidence to back this up; I intend to ask my headache specialist about it.

I’m thrilled that my head pain is better, though still not convinced it will last. I am trying to enjoy it in the moment without assuming I will continue on an upward trajectory. This is a new challenge in my mindfulness practice — a challenge I am grateful to pursue!

Enough about me. Could magnesium help you? In addition to headache specialist Christina Peterson’s article Should You Be Taking Magnesium?, look into The Magnesium Solution for Migraine Headachesby Jay Cohen. This short, inexpensive book is my preferred resource on magnesium and migraine. I’m working on a summary of the information I’ve gleaned from it, though don’t know when it will be ready to post. If you decide to try magnesium, it is important note to note that different types of magnesium supplements have different absorption rates and side effects. I am using Bluebonnet’s buffered magnesium glycinate chelate with no problem. It is more expensive than other kinds, but doesn’t make me nauseated.

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Terrible Migraines: Is it birth control pills? Allergies? A bad spell?

My brain has had a rough month. I’ve had brief reprieves, but most of my time has been occupied by terrible migraines. I feel better this morning and am taking full advantage of it.

I’m in my fourth week of birth control pills. I’ve been spotting for the last 10 days, which I assume has contributed to the migraines. I plan to give the experiment a couple more months, but am not sure if I can make it that long.

I’m increasingly certain that allergies trigger at least some of my migraines. You may remember last spring was also horrible for me. Magnesium certainly was a factor. I wonder if allergies were also involved. Taking a Zyrtec yesterday appears to have reduced my agony tremendously. I had to reschedule yesterday’s appointment for allergy tests (for the third time) for later this month. (Please note that although allergies don’t cause migraines, they can be a trigger.)

My outlook is surprisingly good. Especially considering a bad appointment with my headache specialist Monday. The gist of the appointment: I have headaches and migraines that haven’t responded to treatment. With time, headache research will uncover more clues. Until then, why not try some more things in case they help? And I should think about medication to “make life bearable,” like morphine. (That’s a can o’ worms I can’t open right now.)

Back to the good outlook: If I have to live with migraines and headaches, at least I can do it the best way possible. I have a comfortable home; supportive, patient friends and family; and an understanding husband. My insurance covers a variety of treatments. I can stream NPR and audiobooks from the library. I eat good food that I don’t have to make. My life is as good as it can be right now.

I’m sad to not post more on the blog. I want to write about news and research. I want to share resources. I want to write about myself less. I want the blog to be like it was two years ago. Change is inevitable, so I’m trying to not worry about it much. Maybe I’ll get there again, maybe not.

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Examining Supplements for Chronic Daily Headache & Migraine Treatment

Dietary supplements feverfew, butterbur, magnesium, riboflavin, coenzyme Q10 and melatonin pop up frequently in the discussion of treatment for chronic daily headache and migraine. Do they work? According to headache specialist Stewart J. Tepper in the medical journal Consultant, “Although the data are relatively few, and sometimes weak, there is some evidence that so-called natural remedies may be effective at preventing or aborting migraine attacks.”

Even if the evidence is weak, many people with CDH and migraine are willing to try supplements because there’s a chance that it might work for them. That’s my approach too, unless there’s indication that the supplement might be harmful or there hasn’t been enough research to show the long-term effects of it.

The journal Headache published a detailed review of supplements in 2006.

“Natural” or Alternative Medications for Migraine Prevention, an article in the journal Headache in 2006, introduced the topic:

For preemptive prophylactic therapy, CAM [complementary and alternative medicine] is not only a viable option, but should be a major consideration. Patients often balk at the use of daily drugs due to the perception such treatment may frequently cause side-effects. So, why not a “natural” agent, mineral, vitamin, or bodily substance? The modern equivalent to the “wild, wild, west” (ie, the Internet) informs us that petasites…. [T]hese CAM therapies are not as strictly regulated by the Food and Drug Administration of the United States as are prescription therapies and devices; they are classified as dietary supplements and not drugs.

The article includes efficacy and safety details on the following supplements:

If the links take you to a sign-in page, you can get a login at BugMeNot.

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Type of Magnesium Affects Absorbtion Rate, Reaction

After I stopped taking magnesium, the severe nausea diminished over several days. And the after-eating headaches that had ceased, slowly increased over those few days. Then I learned from a reader that the dose may not have caused nausea, but the type of magnesium. There are many different kinds; turns out I was taking one of the most difficult to absorb.

I planned to let my my system “flush” it all before I started again, but didn’t want to lose the progress I had made. Especially after I learned it can take three months to get the full effect. So I tried again with a lower dose of an easier-to-absorb type. On my new dose of 150 mg of magnesium glycinate chelate, the nausea is manageable and the after-eating headaches have yet to return.

Although about magnesium before I started taking it the first time, I was apparently unable to absorb the information until I was too sick to move. I have since re-read The Magnesium Solution for Migraine Headaches, a highly informative book. In addition to explaining the connection between migraine (and cluster headache) and magnesium, it shares the history of and evidence for using supplements of the mineral. Guidelines for taking magnesium are also included. If you’re thinking about taking magnesium, consider reading this short book, which is only $5.95 new and about $2.50 used.

The National Institutes of Health also has an excellent (and free!) overview of magnesium, including dietary sources, absorbtion rates and drug interations.