There was a theme consistently underlying my 2007 posts: My migraines were BAD. The year started with five months of being woken up by a migraine nearly every night and ended with more than two months of horrendous all-the-time migraines. I felt more beaten down than I have in the last three years.
Before you get discouraged by the following review, know that I am more optimistic about treating my migraines than I have been since I got my occipital nerve stimulator in December 2003. (Read more on that following the treatment review.)
I revisited acupuncture, but my superhero acupuncturist told me that more sessions would be a waste of time and money.
Shedding tears in the naturopath’s office the first time was enough to keep me from seeing her again. Against my hard fast rule that I not take anything I can’t identify (which I also broke with the acupuncturist), I took the homeopathic remedy, vitamin D and magnesium supplements she suggested. They did nothing.
I gave the chiropractor two months, which she said was the maximum time to see results. I went five times one week, four the next, three for a couple weeks and so on. Turns out I hold my adjustments very well. Unfortunately my migraines didn’t changed and having my neck adjusted freaked me out. Once she stopped asking about my headaches, I knew she had given up.
Many people with treatment-resistant headache disorders become much more treatable once they have sleep problems resolved. Although my sleep seemed fine, I saw a sleep specialist with a background in neurology. Sadly, my sleep is practically perfect. I sleep eight hours, wake up rested, nap when I need to without having it interfere with that night’s sleep.
New Headache Specialist
I saw a new Seattle-based headache specialist in May. We hit it off immediately. Too bad we focused on my blog, headache patients in general and clinical trials. I left enrolled in a clinical trial for Lyrica (which I quit) and with a potential advertiser for The Daily Headache, but without having discussed any of my questions or other treatment options.
Food Trigger Diets
Food triggers were my obsession, even though I’ve always thought them to hog the spotlight in headache treatment (only about 25% of people actually have food triggers).
Although wheat and dairy aren’t considered headache triggers in the general sense, they were my target for months. My no-dairy foray lasted six weeks — until I discovered that I’d dropped 12 pounds in that time. Testing wheat lasted three months, yet I had no ill-effects when I reintroduced it.
After a couple years of avoiding them, I’m almost positive that beans, nuts and legumes are triggers for me. But berries, squash, sunflower and soy oil, barley, pineapple, onions. . . are all questionable.
I declared that I was going on a drastic food trigger elimination diet. A couple weeks later came this post: Drastic Elimination Diet for Migraine Triggers: What Was I Thinking? You get the point.
Finally some good news. In August I started myofascial release and noticed results quickly. The changes aren’t dramatic, but each treatment usually gives me some relief. The effects have never lasted more than two days — and sometimes only a couple hours — but I’m not complaining.
Two sessions weren’t enough to judge if craniosacral will be effective. I’ll definitely try again, but it just didn’t work out this time. The woman I saw was wonderful and spent an extra 30 minutes with me each visit. Unfortunately, driving to her practice takes 30 minutes. After spending 20 minutes lost on the way there and another hour on the way home, the negative associations were too strong for me to go back.
When the last migraine spell lifted in mid-December I remembered how good I could feel. Thinking about what I love about my life was no longer a reminder of what I couldn’t have, but of how wonderful it truly is. I am happy and getting out of the house more. I even get to see friends!
This year’s list of treatments to try is as long as it was last year. Its like I’ve spent the last 10 years whittling down possibilities and arrived at the most promising therapies. Having had this faith shattered in the past, I am cautious. Nonetheless, I’m positive a brighter path is ahead.
It almost bores me to write about migraine and headache diets: Nearly every news article says you should do them, but many headache specialists say that only about 25% of people benefit from them. I vacillate between thinking food triggers are bunk and not eating to avoid migraine and headache triggers.
What I’m absolutely sure of is that Heal Your Headache: The 1-2-3 Approach for Taking Charge of Your Pain is a simplified — and usually ineffective — approach to headache and migraine treatment. (Not to mention it is also terribly offensive.)
I’m not the only writer with migraine with these conclusions. The latest is The Migraine Diet by New York Times blogger Judith Warner. The following excerpts don’t do justice to Warner’s eloquent examination.
Fortunately, no one seems to have noticed that I wrote last week’s column with one eye closed. I also had the lights in my office off, the shades drawn and the thermostat turned up to about 85 degrees.
All this because I had a migraine. In fact, I was on day six of a migraine that would, by day seven, have me dissolving into tears . . .
I was suffering like this because I was Taking Control of my life. I’d recently read “Heal Your Headache,” by the Johns Hopkins University neurologist David Buchholz. And now I was following his “1-2-3 Program for Taking Charge of Your Pain.”
I stopped drinking caffeine and alcohol and stopped eating chocolate, cheese, M.S.G., nuts, vinegar, citrus fruits, bananas, raspberries, avocados, onions, fresh bagels and donuts, pizza, yogurt, sour cream, ice cream, aspartame and all aged, cured, fermented, marinated, smoked, tenderized or nitrate-preserved meats.
For a couple of weeks, I was ravenously hungry, cranky, spaced out and vaguely, deprivedly resentful. But I felt, headache-wise, somewhat improved. I had six or nine migraines, but they were less severe. And, once I got used to it, I came to almost enjoy being on my diet, exploring my capacity for hunger and self-abnegation, obsessing over what foods I could eat, and how, and when. At the very least, the diet made my friends happy. Renouncing food, renouncing pills, is so often, in our time, seen as the right and righteous, pure and wholesome thing to do.
And then the headaches returned, with a vengeance.
Funny that Warner’s post was soon followed by MSN article Discover the 3-step System to Heal Headaches: Neurologist David Buchholz Shares Practical Advice on Preventing Pain, which is nothing more than an excerpt from Buchholz’s book.
Update: I didn’t even start this diet before I realized how absurd it is. I’d be starving myself of nutrition even though elimination diets have never helped me find food triggers. Read the post linked to in the last sentence for details.
I’ve been on elimination diets that avoid the major and minor food triggers of migraine on and off with little success. There’s much debate on the role of foods in triggering migraine, and I’ve always fallen on the skeptical side. The general acceptance now is that about 25% of people have food triggers.
I’ve revised my position drastically: I’m nearly convinced that all foods are migraine triggers for me! No matter what I eat, a migraine comes on 30-60 minutes after eating. Not always, of course, but the vast majority of the time. I know my conclusion isn’t realistic, but it so often feels this way.
This is a slippery slope to mistrusting all food and not wanting to eat. A friend with celiac disease and other unknown gastrointestinal problems restricted foods so much that she couldn’t eat anything without obsessing over the ingredients. It got to where she felt like she had an eating disorder.
To avoid following the same trajectory, I’m trying a dramatic diet. I’m going to go extreme up front to quell my suspicions more easily. For three days, I’ll be down to chicken, oatmeal, or rice and a green vegetable. I’ll slowly add foods back in to see if they are problematic.
Even this diet isn’t foolproof. Because triggers seem to add up to reach a threshold, something that’s a trigger this week may be benign next week. It’s worth a shot.
I’m tired and I hurt. I can barely think. The diet is extreme, but I’m sick of screwing around. I’ve got to find some way to reduce the severity of my migraines and headaches. I still love my life, but there’s so much more I want to do. I hate sitting on the sidelines and I miss being able to think.
Now I have to decide when to start. . . .