Mental Health, Reader Stories

Your Headache Stories: From Erin

Erin, who blogs at Through the Eyes of a Migraine and has recently hinted that she’s pregnant, shares her story:

On October 31, 1994 I was getting ready to go out trick-or-treating when I started feeling something that I had never felt before. I was flushed, nauseous and I had the most severe headache I ever experienced. I couldn’t tolerate light, sound, or smells. Everything hurt. All I could do was lie down and be as still as possible.

That was supposed to be the last time I went out trick-or-treating (my mom said I was getting “too old” to do that). I never got to go out that evening.

Ever since that day, my life has revolved around my migraines. I’m 24 now and still learning to live with this beast that controls my life.

I used to get one a month – which correlated with my cycle – until age 16 when I was put on the birth control pill. At that point, they nearly stopped. Then for some reason at age 21, they came back with a vengeance.

I started getting them 1-2 times a month. A year and a half ago I developed severe, chronic insomnia. This exacerbated my migraines even more. I started getting 2-3 times a week. Then I got them every day.

I saw a neurologist. Then another. And a chiropractor. 6 medications, a blog and 18 months later, I think I’ve finally found something that helps. I’m on Effexor, a very effective sleep aid and still seeing a chiropractor regularly. I’m working with counselors and psychiatrists to work through the depression and anxiety that I’ve acquired as a result of all this. I still have horribly bad days. But now I also have wonderfully great days. I can go weeks at a time without as much as a dull ache in my head. I’m now living a life that I had lost all hope for.

Somehow through all of it, I managed to maintain my job even though I was taking sick time without pay. I was commuting at least an hour one-way. I was going to school and working an additional job a few nights a week. How did I do it? I have no idea. But I do know that I couldn’t do it without my wonderful husband to support me.

Erin, I wish you a wonderful pregnancy that reduces your headaches. You’re in my thoughts. I misinterpreted the hint. Erin is not pregnant, but is considering trying in the near future. She’s still in my thoughts, of course, and I hope that when she gets pregnant, her headaches will lessen!

You can read previous stories from readers at:

If you’d like to share your story with readers (or just with me), please e-mail me.

Meds & Supplements, Treatment

Antidepressants for Pain

“Why did my doctor prescribe an antidepressant? I’m not depressed, I have outrageous headaches!” I’m convinced that every headache sufferer asks this question at some point. If doctors don’t explain the reasons or if patients don’t understand them, we feel dismissed or as if our doctors didn’t listen to us.

But there are good reasons behind the drug choice. Some of the same brain chemicals are thought to be shared between the two diseases, so antidepressants can adjust the imbalance of migraine-related chemicals. Also, many antidepressants have pain-soothing properties.

Tricyclic antidepressants, including Elavil (amitriptyline), Tofranil (imipramine) and Pamelor (nortriptyline), have a long track record in treating pain. SSRIs, like Prozac, Effexor and Zoloft, don’t have as much proof supporting their efficacy for pain, but there is some evidence that they help reduce pain as well as treat other symptoms related to migraine, like anxiety.

Mayo Clinic provides an overview of why tricyclics are used for pain, how they work and side effects. The best description of SSRIs for headache that I’ve found is Headache 2005 from the Robbins Headache Clinic. Getting to it requires wading through a PDF, but it’s worthwhile. The SSRI information begins on page 32.

11/18/05: Turns out the chemical imbalance theory of depression is off-kilter. Antidepressants may work on the same areas of the brain affected by headache, but a chemical imbalance isn’t the place.