Headaches / Migraines
Headache Patient Stories
Today I am enjoying the wonderful smells of spring flowers. It has been many many years since I have been able to do this. For about 50 years I have suffered from daily headaches of one kind to another. I have tried medicines, biofeedback, and just living with them. I had given up hope that I would ever have a headache free day. I was with my husband who has sleep apnea and snores. We visited Dr. S for him to obtain an apparatus to relieve these symptoms. At the appointment Dr S noticed that I had a headache. He treated me by spraying the sides of my face with a cold spray and had me bite on a wad of cotton gauze. I then saw Dr S for an appliance to stop the headaches. I had ground my teeth so much that my bite was incorrect and was causing the pain. Dr S gave me an appliance to correct the bite. It was to be worn at all times. It was so nice to feel good everyday! After a few months, Dr S and I decided that crowning the teeth to permanently correct my bite was a very good idea. Now with the new teeth my headaches are gone, my bite is correct, my smile sparkles and I am sleeping because my husband no longer snores. My life has really improved dramatically. I am so grateful for finding Dr S!
Shannon is a 23-year-old woman who has been suffering from migraine headaches since she was just 17 years old. Her first migraine occurred when she was sitting on her bed doing homework one evening, and she noticed her vision started to blur. Shortly after this symptom, a pain started behind her left eye and she began vomiting. She fainted, and her mother drove her to the hospital immediately.
After two similar attacks, Shannon made an appointment with a neurologist who told her that she probably had migraines caused by depression, so he prescribed Prozac. Since she was not depressed at all, the drug caused her to be tired and actually caused her headaches to occur more frequently. Her doctor then prescribed a series of drugs including Elavil, Imitrex, Midrin, and Zomig, but nothing worked.
Shannon was actually free of headaches for a year but then they started up again. With every migraine, she passed out and even had seizures. She would shake constantly during an episode.
She then went to a different neurologist, who prescribed her Pamelor and Maxalt. While on these drugs, Shannon experienced fewer headaches, but they were still very severe. When she went to the ER, she was given narcotic pain relief, but Shannon didn’t want a painkiller that merely stopped the pain temporarily. She wanted to fight the cause of the headaches.
Every time she called her neurologist and said she had experienced another episode, he merely increased her dosage.
Shannon had gone three months without a migraine but has had four in just one month recently. Because of health insurance issues, she cannot even get in to see a doctor for several months. She can only go to a general practitioner and must get a referral to another neurologist. Shannon is hoping that her new doctor will actually care about getting to the root of the problem.
Have headaches been ruining your life? Here’s Anne’s story.
Anne’s first migraine hit her like a bolt of lightning one spring day when she was 24 years old, a young military officer sharing an apartment with her boyfriend who was in the same unit. The day of her first migraine was a day she was in work meetings all day. Sometime in the early afternoon, she began to feel a throbbing pain in her forehead, right behind her left eye. Within 60 minutes, the pain became so severe that she could barely function. Anne even felt faint. After she realized she could no longer remain at work in such terrible pain, her boyfriend took her home and left her there to rest.
While lying in bed, still in uniform, and unable to move, the second “wave” hit Anne. She described this as her “body coming apart.” She experienced severe pain, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea, so bad that she considered calling an ambulance. Within minutes after the peak of that wave, the worst symptoms began to subside; she stopped shivering and the nausea went away. Her head still throbbed. She crashed into bed.
Anne has since learned that migraines come in all shapes and degrees of severity.
Geoff was a young man who suffered what one doctor diagnosed as “cluster headaches,” for a long time but then, one day, they just suddenly stopped. Cluster headaches have been known to afflict people for years and then stop for many years, even decades. Geoff’s doctor told him of one case in which the patient actually went 25 years between cluster headache attacks. Typically, however, the time between attacks is a year or two.
Geoff’s headaches usually came on in the middle of the night. He was afraid to go to sleep because he knew he’d be awakened by pain around 2 a.m. Nighttime onset is quite common in cluster headache sufferers because one of the triggers of these types of headaches is rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, which occurs 2-3 hours after falling asleep.
Geoff’s wife also dreaded nighttime because she could not help him, so she felt totally helpless. He groaned in pain so loudly that he would go into his basement so as not to wake up his children. His pain was overwhelming.
Cluster headaches are very difficult to treat as they do not respond to medication as migraines often do. While cluster headaches are vascular (as are migraines) they seem to be completely different in origin. Patients who experience cluster headaches have tender spots in their carotid arteries, and spasms in these neck arteries may be one cause of the pain.
Geoff found some relief by taking ergotamine. He also obtained an oxygen machine because breathing in 100% oxygen for a few minutes can stop a cluster headache from coming on.
For the last few years, Geoff’s doctor has prescribed a drug called sumatriptan which is supposed to stop a cluster headache within five minutes. Geoff also takes Verapamil, usually diagnosed for heart problems.
By the time he was in his mid-20’s, Alex was getting severe headaches almost daily. His headaches were interfering with his ability to function as a primary school teacher. Alex had tried everything to relieve his headaches including reflexology, massage, hypnotherapy, and meditation. Even when he was very calm and totally relaxed, he would still get a headache. Alex and his general practitioner agreed that his headaches were likely not due to stress, so the GP referred Alex to a neurologist for a full work-up. Nothing showed up, not even in the MRI (magnetic resonance imaging).
Alex spent a great deal of his time rushing around between work and doctors’ appointments. He no longer had much time to cook, so he began eating sandwiches throughout the week. One of his favorites was ham, salami and gruyere cheese. One week, he had this sandwich and each time he ate this type of sandwich, he would get a headache about four hours later. He then began researching the connection between food and headaches. Quickly he found that there were certain foods that can trigger migraine or vascular headaches. Gruyere cheese and processed meats (his favorites) were at the very top of the list.
So, Alex began to keep a food diary and a record of when his headaches came and went. It was quickly obvious that his headaches came after eating certain processed meats and cheeses. He also got headaches after drinking red wine and beer, smoked mackerel, and Chinese food.
Alex took his diary of his diet and headaches to his doctor; his doctor seemed a bit embarrassed that he had not that of that himself. The doctor did refer him to a nutritionist who devised diets for migraine sufferers. I made a list of all foods I had to avoid altogether. The nutritionist also recommended that I avoid processed foods that were high in artificial sweeteners or flavor enhancers such as MSG and several other triggers.
Alex followed a very strict diet for several weeks, and after four days he went three weeks without one headache.
Not all headache sufferers find relief by a change in diet. Many people suffer from headaches for years, even decades, before finding the root of the problem.
Neuromuscular dentists with specialized training are often able to free patients from the pain of their headaches without prescribing narcotic pain medications or changing their diets.
Sometimes, severe headaches are caused by a misaligned jaw joint (the temporomandibular joint or TMJ). By placing the jaw in its optimal position, headaches, and a whole host of other symptoms often go away.
If you suffer from migraines or headaches, contact our iHATEheadaches doctors for headache diagnosis and headache treatment.