Monday, 3 June 2013

Migraines and Me

I live in fear of losing my life to migraines. Maybe that's a bit over dramatic, I don't expect to be killed by them, but I do worry that once again they are going to take away my quality of life.

There was a time not so long ago when I couldn't plan to go out in the evening, that I worried about booking meetings at work because I knew there was a high chance I would have to call in sick, and when I spent much of my time in a dark room lying very still just waiting for the throbbing, nausea and agony to stop.

On a good day I wouldn't be bed dependent, on a a good day I would just have a bad headache.

Migraines are common, with around 1 in 4 women in the UK experiencing them. People who don't have experience of them might think they are a bad headache, but an intense throbbing head pain is only one small (painful) part of a migraine. After a year or so of experiencing migraines I got to know them very well: before it arrived I would often crave sweet sugary things (more than normal) and become intensely irritated with people around me who were only doing mildly stupid things (pre-headache stage). Next I would often feel sick or get a visual disturbance where everything started going a bit fuzzy and I would bump into things (the aura stage).

If I didn't manage to fight off the migraine through a change of activity, food or drugs the headache would arrive. With a bad one, even with drugs, I would have no choice but to go to bed to wait it out (resolution stage). I tried fighting it, not giving in: it would just result in me being physically sick. Even after the pain went I would feel it's shadow and need more time to get back to normal (the recovery stage).

I tried a long list of ways to try and reduce the number of migraines: eliminating certain foods (useless), avoiding common triggers (have you tried avoiding stress?), exercising more (hard with a migraine), taking painkillers or triptans (both treatments not preventative) and a preventative drug: pizotifen (made me extremely tired, gain loads of weight, but a minor reduction in intensity of migraines). None of these worked significantly.
I have lost too many days of my life in bed in a dark room
Migraines are thought to be cause by Serotonin and affected by hormones, but given how many people suffer from them there is still no real understanding of them. Different people appear to have different triggers which is further complicated by the behaviours in the pre-headache and aura stages eg craving sweet things. I discovered that I have multiple triggers of which a number have to combine at anyone time eg if I'm tired, miss a meal, and then have the sun glaring in my eyes I will get a migraine, but any single trigger doesn't affect me.

Around a year after I started experiencing migraines, and at desperation point after having tried everything, I had my contraceptive implant removed. The doctor said that there was no way it causing my migraines. Almost immediately the migraines reduced in intensity. I realised that although I had originally had an implant 4 years before I had it changed shortly before the migraines started. Why it took me so long to work out this link I don't know.

Without the implant the migraines became more manageable, but I would still have to take strong drugs several times a month. Not ideal when you want to start a family. I didn't want to have to be taking powerful painkillers in pregnancy so after reading an article in a magazine I tried one last thing: acupuncture.

I was sceptical (to say the least) how sticking needles in random parts of my body would have any affect on headaches. My acupuncturist warned me from the beginning that it would probably take a number of treatments and regular 'top ups' to treat my migraines and headaches, but I started responding immediately  After just a few treatments I felt confident that I would be able to manage a pregnancy without drugs.

Acupuncture can also be used to help people struggling to conceive and my acupuncturist put needles in some points to make by body more balanced and likely to conceive (yeah, yeah I was unconvinced about that too). I became pregnant the first time we tried.

I continued to have acupuncture throughout my pregnancy including at the end to naturally encourage my body to move towards labour as I didn't want to be artificially induced. I went a few times after M was born, but I stopped going as I struggled to find the time.

About 14 months postpartum (thanks to breastfeeding) my menstrual cycle returned and headaches and  migraines with it. I now have a number of headaches each month and one or two migraines.  They are still fairly minor with only one or two each month requiring bed rest in a dark room, but I am worried about if they will get worse. I don't want to lose my life again.

How can I be a good mother if I can't be with my daughter?

How can I be a good wife if I am hiding in a dark room?

I am going back to see my acupuncturist this week. My fingers are crossed that she will work her magic.

For more information about Migraines see these pages from the NHS 
There is no statutory regulation of acupuncture in the UK, but there are a number of bodies they can register with including The British Acupuncture Council
My acupuncturist based in Harlow, Essex


  1. oh I feel for you, that's awful. My sister developed migraines after going on the pill to the point she could barely see. She came off it. I am trying to recall some private (not cheap) treatment for migraines. I have a feeling it may be botox (or something equally bizarre) but may be worth googling.

    1. Thanks. Hormones are surprisingly powerful. If they get worse I might force my husband to have another baby so I can get a break from them again ;-)


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