Looking Forward to Relief

By Wanda

Have you ever stopped and listed all the treatment methods you’ve used to manage the pain of migraines? We spend so much time, energy, and money on preventive and abortive treatments it can be daunting.

According to the Migraine Relief Center,

“the costs of migraines in the United States is $78 BILLION annually. Someone who requires treatment for chronic migraine can expect to spend $8,500-$9,500 a year, while those with episodic migraines may spend $2,000 a year.”

These estimates do not include lost productivity or lost wages. Any way you look at it, $78 billion dollars is a huge amount of money being spent on treatment for a disease we so little understand involving the organ we know least about and rely upon the most.

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What is the most extreme thing you have tried for migraines? For me it was intravenous DHE (dihydroergotamine protocol). This involved five to six days in the hospital every six months hooked up to a saline drip. Every eight hours I would receive a dose of orally dissolving ondansetron (nausea medication), a dose of Benadryl, and ten milligrams of Valium, followed by a push of the DHE into my IV. Because of the serious side effects, many of them cardiac related, DHE is often rejected as a continuous treatment for migraine and cluster headaches.

My doctors and I referred to it as “chemo for migraines,” and having had chemotherapy for cancer I can attest that the side effects were very similar. This begs the question “Why put yourself through that?!” The simple answer is, nothing else was working. This was a last ditch effort before Botox was FDA-approved for migraine prevention. The DHE protocol as described isn’t popularly used anymore in the States, though as of 2017 it was still being actively used in Great Britain.

A few years later I began the Botox injections, and was actually the first patient in the clinic to receive them. The company trainer came in and used me to illustrate injection sites and patterns. This went on for about a year, as there are a number of different doses of Botox and different patterns of injections. At the time, we were continuing with the DHE treatments, and I finally had some lasting relief. F

or the first time in memory, there were migraine free days on my calendar! Of course, this meant I was also putting two very strong chemicals (both commonly accepted as poison) in my body at the same time. For a while, there were different medical groups following my progress as there were few people getting both treatments. Because Botox can need up to three sessions to see improvement, it takes commitment and a willingness to deal with the injection pain many people don’t want to go through. This is completely understandable when you realize the accepted administration of injections is to stick the needle in until it reaches the skull and then pull back a little. Migraines are not for the faint of heart.

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Have you heard of “Electric Shock Therapy?” You’ve probably seen something similar in horror films or in documentaries of old psychiatric treatments. Perhaps you’ve heard of a TENS (transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation) unit which sends electric impulses between two “lead wires” applied to the body with with electrodes. The electric impulses are controlled by the patient who can moderate the pulse width, frequency, and intensity.

Many people are introduced to TENS units during physical therapy or at their chiropractor’s office. I was approved for one for home use: for my neck, knees, and lower back. By placing the leads in a cross pattern at the base of my neck, some migraine relief was achieved.

Enter the Cefaly, an external trigeminal nerve stimulator which attaches to the forehead. Like a TENS unit, the Cefaly comes with different settings. One is for daily use as a preventative; the other is an acute setting for the relief of pain during a migraine attack. I’ve not had much luck with the Cefaly yet, but am hoping that may change soon.

The latest treatment in my quest for head pain relief are bilateral trigeminal nerve blocks. You may be familiar with nerve blocks in the back or as an epidural used during labor. The trigeminal nerve blocks operate on the same premise, but are injected into your forehead. Yes, yes it is as painful as it sounds. On the upside, the blocks can last up to eight months. This month was my first bilateral treatment.

According to the neurologist who administered the blocks, there are not many patients who receive both nerve blocks AND Botox. Again, because my migraines are TBI-related, we are continually making up treatment plans as we go along. The hope at this point is noticeable relief with the nerve blocks and Cefaly combined. We will see what happens over the next few months. Having two different specialist working on my treatment is a huge help. One is a migraine specialist, while the other specializes in TBI.

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None of these treatments sound like something to look forward to, but, the hope of real and lasting relief keeps us migraineurs going. Whether it’s relief of symptoms during a migraine or fewer migraine days per month, we are open to almost any kind of treatment.

It’s only been in the last year that migraine-specific medications have been approved by the FDA. These advancements open up new territory for migraine treatment and give us hope in looking forward to relief. As science and research into the brain progresses, so does hope for real and lasting relief. We need to bear in mind, though, that each migraineur is different and that there are numerous types of migraine.

There is no sign of a cure, and with technology as it stands, I see no hopes for a cure in either my lifetime, or my children’s. This is not to say there isn’t hope or progress being made, or great leaps forward in treatment. It is just a realistic recognition that migraine is a disease we do not have a good grasp on, that affects the organ we know the least about.

Still in all, looking forward to greater levels of relief keeps us hopeful for tomorrow and all the days that follow.


Header Image Credit: https://www.pexels.com/photo/silhouette-of-woman-1027131/
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