Karen's story

Migraine stories: Karen

I am a 61 year old whose migraines started in the 1970s.

Over the years my migraine patterns have changed, as have I. I’ve had seven pregnancies resulting in the birth of four children. I’ve survived an Access Course, a Degree, a resigned-from PhD, a divorce and breast cancer and the one constant feature throughout all of these adult milestones has been my migraines.

As a young woman my migraines were brief, without any identifiable aura and treated by my GP with anti-emetics and paracetamol. The drugs weren’t particularly helpful, but the migraines only lasted 24 hours, and I was usually able to work through them. In the 1980s I was pregnant six times and had three children. Interestingly, my migraine frequency and intensity diminished significantly during this period, leading me to conclude that there was a hormone element to them. My last child was born in 1992. In 1994 I went to college and gained a pass at Access to Social Sciences and Humanities which bought me a place on a BA course the following year. After my BA, in 1999, I earned a place as a PhD student, and it was at this stage in my life with all the pressures of teaching and proposal preparation when one night a migraine of such magnitude drove an icepick through my head with so much force that I called a doctor in blinding agony. This marked the return of migraines, not as mild, sporadic events but as shattering, crushing, defeating and horribly regular visitations.

My migraines are now well controlled, well managed and reviewed by my GP and a Neurologist. I have had MRI scans and physical examinations that confirm my condition. I have been sent to a stroke clinic by very keen out of hours GPs who don’t distinguish between migraine related speech compromise and the effects of a mini-stroke, and don’t want to take any chances.

I work for the NHS and I am a medical PA. My work is demanding, interesting and requires concentration. I have one of the most amazingly supportive, understanding and compassionate managers I have ever worked for, and my contract hours have been changed to help me manage my migraine sickness.

My migraines last 7-10 days. I take sumatriptan (Imigran) 50mg when the first inkling of left-sided eye socket located head pains progress to more definite ‘this is going to develop’ signs. Timing is crucial: taken too early and Imigran for me will simply fail. I should say that the first inklings of head pain usually come two or three days after a fuzzy, hung over head, lost words and transient episodes of difficulty speaking. So, by and large, I know a migraine head ache is coming. If I time my Imigran right, the head pain is halted within a couple of hours, and I am able to keep on working, driving my car and generally functioning well. This is followed by up to a week of foggy thinking and nausea, but is easily managed with good diet, exercise and plenty of cuddles from my tremendously supportive husband!

I experience catastrophic (!!!) drug fail migraine about five times a year. These events I dread. They start just like any migraine, and as far as I know there are no triggers. My prodrome is the same, I take Imigran at the perceived right time, but for some reason it fails and the migraine roots itself deep into my pain receptors. By the end of day 3 when the drug fail migraine is established, the nausea ramps up, and I go to bed, unable to see clearly to read and needing to sleep. I take 900mgs aspirin, 1000mgs paracetamol, text my manager to tell her how I am, and I sink into bed. By the next morning (day 4) my left eye lid and socket are reddened, sore and throbbing, the left side of my face feels as if it’s been hammered and by the end of the day my left nostril has begun to drip. Day 5 and my left eye has usually closed, the pain is brain-screamingly unbearable and the nausea is worse; alongside the aspirin and paracetamol regime I also take the anti-emetic metoclopramide. Day 6 and my face looks as if I’ve been in a fight: eyes swollen and puffy, skin pasty and expression one of despair! By day 7 there is a perceptible reduction in constant head pain but replaced by jab and jolt ice-pick stabs of pain, but these signify the end of the migraine and I’ve come to welcome them! Days 8, 9 and 10 disappear in a postdromal fog with muzzy thinking and compromise to smell, taste, sound and touch.

Mercifully my drug fails are infrequent and I have excellent coping strategies to offset the misery.

The views and opinions expressed in this ‘Migraine story’ are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of The Migraine Trust.