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Migraine Stories: Insights from a Teenager With Chronic Migraine

Having chronic migraine is always difficult, but living with migraine as a teenager is particularly tough. At the age of 17, Sidney already knows how devastating chronic migraine can be. It’s impact reverberates throughout her life, especially in lost friendships and being behind in school. Yesterday she began a stay at a comprehensive pediatric pain rehabilitation center—please keep her in your thoughts as she goes through this intense process. I so hope she finds some relief. She shares her story up to now with you below. She’s also making notes about her stay at the pain clinic and hopes to share the experience with you. 

Here’s how to share your story. And you can read more readers’ stories here.

Migraine Background

My diagnosis is chronic migraine headache with (occasionally) aura, light and sound sensitivity, lightheadedness/dizziness, and nausea but thankfully without vomiting. I am 17. I was diagnosed with episodic migraines when I was about 5 years old. I’ve had them ever since I can remember and my parents say that I started complaining of them as soon as I could articulate what was going on. I find the fact that chronic pain and illness in general is so unknown. But maybe that’s a side effect of such a widespread thing. All the people who experience it are forced to isolate themselves, so we don’t ever see them.

Migraine’s Impact on Sidney’s Social Life, School

This illness has taught me that I’m very comfortable being by myself and that I don’t need a constant companion to be happy. But, it’s a catch 22. I can actually be SO comfortable by myself that ‘alone time’ can stretch on until I’ve isolated myself too much. I will list the affected areas in the order they have been most impacted:

1) My social life. Since my illness started 4 years ago I have moved once. I had already lost most of my friends before I moved but I was able to hold on to 2 really essential people I care about. Since moving, I haven’t been able to make any friends.

2) School. I should be graduating this year, and the two really good friends I mentioned earlier are. But because of my migraines, I have fallen at least a full year behind on school, if not more.

Coping

migraine-teenager-dogsI would have to say that at this period of time, I’m not coping very well, and that my main coping source comes from my pets. My relationships have pretty much been beaten down to my parents. I’ve been surprised by how much closer this has brought me to my Mom, and how it’s made me realize how similar I am to my Dad. My parents show their support by continuing to put up with me. I don’t always (most always) make it easy and I can’t put into words how much I appreciate that simple fact. I have one really good relationship with a health care provider and the others are just okay. I really like my neurologist (who is actually a headache specialist), and the others (like psychiatrist and therapist) are supportive but not really knowledgeable of my illness. They each support me in the ways that they know how, and that’s all I can really ask for.

Nerve Stimulator: Relief… Until it Stopped Working

migraine-teenager-nerve-stimulatorI got the neurostimulator trial in June 2015. The electric leads go from the occipital area in the back of my head and over my ears to my forehead just above the eyebrows. [The leads are external, as this photo shows, only during the trial.] The rechargeable battery is about the same size as a pacemaker and was implanted in my non-dominant shoulder. My scar is about an inch long and is easily covered up. Usually for the first year, the stimulator needs to be readjusted for intensity and duration. This implant is very similar to what someone with chronic back pain would get.

During the trial and for the first few weeks I had the implant, my pain was kept at 5/10 at the most, and 0 pain at the least. I was singing hallelujah! Then after my grandmother died in the beginning of September, the stim stopped working. I don’t know if stress, or grief, or this crazy idea that my body learns to reject any type of treatment provided, but that was a big blow to take.

Now, for any of you that might want to check this out, there are two problems to consider: 1. You have to be referred or seen by a headache specialist. 2. The stim is VERY EXPENSIVE! My co-payment was about $10,000 with insurance paying much more. That being said, I hope there are some of you out there who can use find relief from this treatment.

Sidney’s Advice for Others With Migraine

My advice would be to make sure you like your provider and you feel that they are actually helping you. I’ve found that any Dr. I didn’t like, I didn’t feel was giving me proper support. Also, don’t be afraid to change providers if you’ve come to a standstill in your care. Even if you really like so-and-so, you need to actually feel like they’re helping you and things can get worse if this stops.

Reader-submitted stories solely represent the personal point of view, experience, and opinion of the author, not of The Daily Headache or Kerrie Smyres.

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NDPH Stories: Mom of a Teenager With New Daily Persistent Headache

What’s your story? Send an email with your name, age, headache disorder, and a little bit about yourself to kerrie [at] thedailyheadache [dot] com. I’ll follow up with some questions for you to answer.

A few weeks ago, you saw the story of Francesca, a 15-year-old who has new daily persistent headache. Kate, Francesca’s mom, shared her experience of parenting a teenager with NDPH.

What kinds of health care providers have been most helpful in
your daughter’s treatment?

Getting to this diagnosis was a long, difficult, and painful journey. Daughter kept complaining of headache after mono was supposedly over. Her doctor and several others could see no reason for a headache.

Started with pediatrician, then took her to ENT – discovered she had another sinus infection which was believed to be source of headache. Another round of antibiotics. Still complaining of headache. Back to ENT who put a camera up her nose, no sign of sinus infection.

Took her to a second pediatrician for second opinion as the headache was resulting in missing a lot of school. He performed an extensive battery of blood work, testing for everything including vitamin deficiencies. He called me and said, “there is no reason your daughter should not be in school, there is absolutely nothing wrong with her.” (He was wrong.)

Daughter started cutting school to stay home to sleep. When she was caught it was a real wake-up call for everyone. Her pediatrician said to take her to Stanford to see a pediatric neurologist. That was the first phase of getting to a real diagnosis. The neurologist immediately identified the headache as a chronic daily migraine, prescribed the COQ10, Maxalt and Topamax. We ended up changing docs after a few months as this one was very difficult to get an appointment with; Stanford had opened a new clinic in SF so transferred care to that site and saw a different Stanford neurologist for almost a year there. She took my daughter through the meds up through Propanolol and decided that my daughter would be better off at the adult headache clinic where, if accepted as a patient (she is a minor so it was up to the director) she would become eligible for more types of treatments. She had first appointment in July of this year – so far very happy with the clinic. On first visit there she was diagnosed with NDPH. It was bittersweet –having a name for this thing, but then learning more about it and slowly realizing how devastating it can be to a person’s life.

Do you have advice for anyone who is still searching for a doctor who knows about NDPH?

In our case, we did not know about NDPH until my daughter was diagnosed with it. If a headache is not going away, see a neurologist. Find a major medical clinic and go there. Major teaching hospitals are a good place to start. We are really fortunate to live near one of the finest medical centers in the world with a first rate clinic for headache and facial pain.

What other advice would you give someone with NDPH?
Don’t give up. Find a doctor that you trust. A doctor who also is a migraineur is a real plus.

Find a support group. You are often on your own in finding support. These seemed very elusive but I found a great group for parents on Facebook. It has been invaluable. It is a closed group, meaning you have to apply to be a member of the group. I cannot begin to tell you how alone I felt before finding that group, which has only been in the last six weeks. The collective knowledge in the group is amazing. There is also a group for teens and young adults. But even small children can have NDPH. As a parent it is critical that you find support and other parents to talk with. This is a huge, life-altering, debilitating illness. It is not a simple little headache.

What is the hardest part about your daughter having NDPH?

For the parent it is realizing that some of the dreams you have for your child may have to be adjusted. The route to college may not be the route you’d planned, you may have to look at alternate ways of just getting through high school. You have to be very flexible with your dreams, hopes and expectations.

It’s hard dealing with people who have no clue what it is and think that your kid is just pulling a fast one on you to get out of school. Let me tell you, it takes way more work to fake wellness than it does to fake illness.

School is stressful for both the child as patient as well as the parent. Even with a 504 plan, you really have to push and be your child’s advocate and sometimes it is exhausting. I know teachers have hard jobs but it is really discouraging when two out of six teachers show up for the 504 plan meeting at the beginning of the school year. It is especially frustrating to hear a teacher tell you that it is stressful for them to have your child in their class. Public schools are designed for healthy students. There is no mechanism in place to deal with a kid with a chronic illness.

It is hard to know how hard to push your kid. You have to communicate a lot to know when her physical limits are being reached. A lot of stuff doesn’t get done. Homework. Housework. A lot of stuff does get done: spending time together. Playing games together. When your kid is home by herself day after day, she is bound to get bored. She can’t sleep during the day due to the strict sleep regulations and is exhausted a lot, probably due to pain and depression. I’m a single mom working full time. But when I do get home, I have to try to push her to do some homework. She’s not always able to do it. Another side effect is an overall lack of organization, in part due to being overwhelmed by being so far behind, but I think the headache lends itself to that too. And if she’s had a true migraine, then she often gets a “migraine hangover.” Anyway, we play games together – there are a couple that we like to play on the iPad. One of our favorites is 7 Words. We don’t have traditional television, we stream everything. When she is feeling exceptionally crappy, I don’t limit the television. We have a couple of shows that we like to watch together, like “Big Bang Theory” and “Castle.” We do these things because she really isn’t up to doing other things like homework. It’s hard because I think others judge us, judge me for my parenting, and they are not in this situation. It’s really easy to say “If I were the one in that situation I would do X, Y, and Z.” But the reality is – we never truly know how we will react in any given situation until we are faced with it ourselves.

What else would you like to say about NDPH?

An UPside to NDPH is that I think it has brought my daughter me closer together.

Also, please stop asking me if my daughter’s headache has gone away. You will know if and when this happens. I will hire a skywriter and host the largest fireworks show known to mankind. It is not a series of multiple headaches, it is ONE LONG HEADACHE THAT NEVER ENDS.

Learning about other people’s treatment can help us figure out our own. Here’s what Francesca has tried and is currently doing.

Topamax, which was effective for about a year and got the headache down to a 2 or 3 on the pain scale. Then it stopped working. A sinus infection may have triggered the spike back up, it has been at a six or greater on the pain scale since February of this year. Verapamil, propanolol and microgestin (birth control) were all ineffective. Doxycycline was  ineffective and very poorly tolerated.

Also: tested for allergies, both for common things in the house and nature, and another for foods. Had several that were in the “might cause problems if around enough of it category” so we use special bedding to limit exposure to dust mites in pillows and mattress. Also on montelukast sodium (generic for Singulair) and loratadine (generic for Claritin) daily.

Recently started taking an anti-depressant at my request. While not exhibiting outward signs of depression, I think that it would stand to reason that someone experiencing pain at this level and also dealing with the social isolation caused by missed school would have to be somewhat depressed. Neurologist agreed, so prescribed escitaloprma oxalate (generic for Lexapro).

Ondasetron (generic for Zofran) for nausea brought on when NDPH spikes to migraine.

Botox – had her first round of injections in November, unknown if effective yet.

Acute meds: Originally was given 25 mg sumatriptan (generic for Imitrex); ineffective (we now know the dose was way too low, given at a pediatric dose for a person who at the time was already the size of an adult). Rizatriptan benzoate (generic for Maxalt) worked for about a year, then stopped working. Now taking sumatriptan at 100 mg and that is working to bring migraine down. NDPH remains. So pain goes from an 8 when spiking to migraine back down to a six.

Supplements: COQ10 and melatonin to aid sleep

Lifestyle:

  • Absolute regular sleep schedule, in bed by 10 pm up at 6 am 7 days a week
  • Sunglasses whenever outside
  • Carries earplugs to use when around loud noise such as on school bus
  • Sees therapist to work through issues about school/pain/teen life

Reader-submitted stories solely represent the personal point of view, experience, and opinion of the author, not of The Daily Headache or Kerrie Smyres.

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NDPH Stories: Teenager With New Daily Persistent Headache

Sharing readers’ stories is something I did in the early days of The Daily Headache, but it fell aside when I got to sick to cope. After emailing with the mother of a teenager with new daily persistent headache (NDPH), I decided to revive this feature. To share your story, send an email with your name, age, headache disorder, and a little bit about yourself to kerrie [at] thedailyheadache [dot] com. I’ll follow up with some questions for you to answer.

Fifteen-year-old Francesca has had new daily persistent headache (NDPH) since she had Epstein-Barr mononucleosis in November 2012. She also has migraine. This is Francesca’s story. Soon, I’ll share what her mom, Kate, has to say about her daughter’s experience. [updated with link to Kate’s story]

What are your symptoms? How severe is the pain?

My headache pain can vary. For the last six months it has been a 6 out of 10 on the pain scale. Usually it’s on my temples and is more intense on my left side. Often it hurts in the back of my head near the base of my skull. I am sensitive to light, sound, and some sharp smells, they can increase the pain.

NDPH often comes on after an illness, accident or medical event. Did you have a precipitating event?

Before I had NDPH in my last year of junior high I got mono in the beginning of November. That lasted about two months or longer. After that I had multiple back-to-back sinus infections. I was still sick after that and I went to various doctors that kept giving the same answer that I was not sick. My mother then took me to a neurologist who diagnosed me with chronic daily headaches.

What is the hardest part about having NDPH?

The struggle doing daily activities that come natural to healthy people. Being sensitive to lights, sounds, and sometimes smells conflict with simple tasks. Sometimes when I stay at home with a migraine I can’t even leave the dark den because when I move in unfavorable ways the pain flares up. The days I do go to school it’s extremely hard to focus. During classes, I’ll try to listen but then zone out. When I snap back to reality I realize I missed some of the lecture and notes.

What do you wish everyone knew about NDPH?

Not everyone knows about it because informing lots people doesn’t really help anyone. Unless there is a person in their daily lives expressing the pain of NDPH, they cannot understand the struggles and stress that family members and the patient live with. Those who sympathize but do not witness the pain cannot truly comprehend.

What other advice would you give someone with NDPH?

The pain extremely sucks at the beginning and it will continue to suck for however long you will have it. You are probably confused or tired of the continuous pain and want it to go away fast. Gradually you’ll understand that getting healthy again is a slow process and you may suffer for a long time. Being a student who has NDPH it is quite hard because you have to go to school. Some teachers sympathize and give you the support and others can’t understand why you can’t just do the work because it is “only a headache.” They just don’t get it.

I’m not saying it’s not hard for an adult who has NDPH because they have to deal with the responsibilities of an adult and be functional and responsible.

But you can’t become a functional adult in society and be constantly tied down when you are still in your teens.

Reader-submitted stories solely represent the personal point of view, experience, and opinion of the author, not of The Daily Headache or Kerrie Smyres.