Chronic Migraine, Treatment

Chronic Migraine and the Changed Brain: Will it Ever Go Back?

It’s interesting to think of what my doctor told me about the brain changing during a migraine attack in the context of chronic migraine. The longer I go without having a migraine every moment of every day, the less invasive my day-to-day symptoms are. Smells don’t always trigger migraine attacks (though most still smell too strong), I’m not bothered by sounds as much, I’m able to take my TheraSpecs off when I’m at home and not looking at a screen. It’s more than just not being in a migraine at the time—it’s that my brain finally gets to experience what it is like to not have a migraine.

“Migraines beget migraines” is a saying that used to give me a chill. The idea is that the more time you spend in migraine attacks, the more your brain learns that migraine is the place to be. If you have frequent enough attacks, your brain decides it’s supposed to be in a migraine state and that becomes the new normal. (Yes, I’m anthropomorphising the brain. It’s the clearest way to explain this complicated topic.) I always worried that my brain would never revert, that I’d never been migraine-free again. Fortunately, I’ve learned that’s not necessarily true.

Just like the brain can learn a pattern of migraine, it can unlearn it. Whatever slows down your migraine frequency helps this process along. This happens in a variety of ways, though preventives are a big part of it. When most people think of migraine preventives, they think they’ll need to stay on them for the rest of their lives. In reality, most people only need to be on them for a little while. (The length depends on how severe and frequent your attacks are, how long you’ve had them, and how your symptoms shake out, among other things.) Once your brain learns frequent migraine isn’t the place to be, it stops churning them out. It’s like a boot camp for your brain, a intense short-term training session.

Chronic migraine is stressful enough without adding worries that your life is irrevocably changed. Although it’s hard to keep those thoughts at bay, I hope my story is a little reassurance that it can happen. My brain is a long way from unlearning migraine, but it continues to forget more and more of the migraine pattern. With as severe as my migraines attack were for so long and with the presence of so many food triggers, I don’t expect I will ever be migraine-free, but I can finally see how I might one day have episodic migraine rather than chronic. That’s nothing short of amazing.

19 thoughts on “Chronic Migraine and the Changed Brain: Will it Ever Go Back?”

  1. Dear Kerrie–I hope you start feeling better soon!

    I am finding that doing modified hatha yoga with deep breathing is really helping me sleep a lot better, plus even helps me get past a newly developing migraine. I often do my yoga just before I go to bed, and commonly fall asleep on the mat in a yoga position!

    What you said re histamine is so very true–people are all so very individual. Nevertheless, a lot of the commonly known migraine triggers are high histamine such as chocolate and aged meats, most cheese, tomatoes etc.

    1. Bea, yoga is magical! I’m glad it’s helping you. And agree that histamine is a problem for a lot of people with migraine and is present in many of the suspected trigger foods.

      Take care,

  2. I just joined in order to better understand some of my genetic material gathered by 23 and me. By doing so, I have just discovered I have what is called a lot of methylation issues. I think this compounds the gluten, histamine/amine, lactose as well as corn and food additive sensitivities I have.

    What entirely to do about it beyond what I am already doing I am uncertain of. However I did discover I have a genetic mutation which makes it difficult for my body to process SOD3 (superoxide dismutase 3). SOD helps protect cells from oxide radicals and thus cell damage and toxicity. So I am ordering some gluten free SOD in hopes it will make me a little less toxic and reactive — and possibly have fewer migraines as a result.

    Further I have started a blog with some of my recipes and strategies you might find of interest. Its at So Kerrie, I was wondering if you would like to link to each other’s blog?

    1. Bea, I’m glad you’re getting some helpful information. I hope you continue to find relief. I don’t have a blogroll right now, but will add your blog to my RSS reader. I’ll share any relevant articles on social media (when I’m able to keep up with social media).

      Take care,

    2. Bea, on the SOD3 mutation, ditto here. So Superoxide Dismutase is an enzyme which acts as an antioxidant and breaks down the superoxide radical. When one antioxidant level is low, for you SOD3, the body does its best to maintain homeostatis and put out that “fire” of oxidation by using other antioxidants if it can. So you may be depleting your glutathione in this way. Many with migraine have low glutathione. NAC will help your body make more glutathione, and sometimes I also will take either Acetyl-glutathione or liposomal. SOD3 is a zinc/copper dependent enzyme. So make sure you are taking or getting enough of those. Also Taurine boosts SOD3 enzyme production, and it also downregulates glutamate and calcium release from glutatmate action (topamax for example is a calcium channel blocker). Creatine is also important for the brain, it helps the mitochondria, and reduces nitric oxide – which is the stuff which triggers vasodilation.

  3. Thank you! This is very reassuring! My neurologist has also told me of these changes. I’ve had chronic migraine for about seven years, and I’m finally on the downswing and transitioning to episodic migraines. So you could say that my brain is relearning what it’s like to not have a daily migraine.

    My symptoms have been decreasing as well, especially my sensitivity to smells. My sense of smell is still very strong, but pungent odors (like perfumes) no longer send me into a severe migraine.

    After years of feeling hopelessly stuck in a permanent state of migraine, the end may finally be in sight.

    1. Danielle, great news that you’re on your way to episodic migraine. I’m glad you no longer feel permanently stuck. Although I’m in a rough spot now, I still have hope that this is not a forever thing.

      Take care,

    1. Debra, I’m sorry to hear that. That’s where I was for many years. Seeing a certified headache specialist has been helpful for me, as has continually trying new treatments.

      Take care,

  4. my conviction is that my migraines are mainly postural and the chronic migraine I suffered for three months have been greatly eased by physiotherapy (not underestimating the contribution of topomax and acupuncture). This is the issue with this disease; everyone has their own triggers to identify…

    1. Anne, I’m glad you found some relief! I have a friend who keeps her migraines at bay as long as she does her neck PT exercises. If she slides, the migraine attacks rear up again.

      Take care,

  5. Hi Kerrie,

    I ran into your website again looking up about migraines and what to do about them.

    I have a lot fewer migraines than I did in the past due to being both completely gluten free plus avoiding high histamine and amine foods. I also avoid lactose. I personally believe most folks who get chronic migraines have a histamine/amine problem.

    Of course one’s body makes histamine too in response to stress, which his one reason doing things like meditation and deep breathing help too, by actually changing one’s chemistry. Last I heard the meditation etc. helps one produce more seratonin.

    For more info on histamine/amine issues, and what to do as well as some good recipes check out the low histamine chef. She puts out a very informative blog. She too had migraines for years constantly, but now is mostly over them.

    Eating a lot of low to medium histamine greens helps a lot too. Plus having sources of DAO–whether from a pill or from food.

    I hope this helps you. My heart reaches out, since having headaches so constantly is very draining and debilitating. I know from personal experience.

    My boyfriend by the way gets migraines too, and now has them only occasionally. He too was previously on Welbutrin and went off it when he went completely off all gluten and has gotten even better being off high histamine foods for the mosts part. He is also currently discovering meditation really helps too!

    I am still learning, but as said am much better and getting better all the time.

    Good luck to you!

    Bea Garth

    1. Thanks for the information, Bea. Histamine is definitely an issue for some people with migraine, but it’s hard to know how many. Some people actually have a reduction in their migraines if they ADD histamine! There are so many variables and so much still unknown about migraine to know the ways in which we differ and are similar. Anyway, I’m glad you’ve found some relief.

      Take care,

  6. Wow great to know! Glad you are on your way to episodic migraines! I wouldn’t mind that one bit. I wonder if there are any other ways to unlearn migraines? I feel I’ve tried most of the preventatives and none have given me relief. I imagine positive affirmations could help but I can’t make myself believe them. I believe stress is also a big contributing factor to my chronic migraines.

    1. Margaret, mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) might be a good option. If nothing else, it will help with stress management. Anything that reduces migraine frequency could be effective. If not preventives, then trigger management, regular exercise, and so-called lifestyle changes could be helpful.

      Take care,

  7. thank you so much for this. i too have chronic migraine/chronic daily headache issues and worry about my brain changing in this way.

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