Daily headaches & migraines - how can I be free of them??
November 30, 2008 3:24 PM   Subscribe

Dear MeFites, please help me find a way to live without these constant headaches. I have had chronic daily headaches, and at least 2-3 migraines a month, for the past ten years. I have tried everything I can think of short of surgery but nothing besides taking painkillers seems to help (and those only a little these days).

My background - I'm female, 30 years old, I'm on the pill (Yasmin) and anti-depressants (Xydep - 100 mg) and a few vitamin supplements.

I've never had children, I work at a computer most of the day (although I do try to maintain good posture and stretch regularly). I've had a cat scan and my eyes checked but there's no apparent problems there.

My diet is generally very good and I drink lots of water. I don't exercise much as anything more than brisk walking gives me an exercise headache - I do wonder if lack of exercise has something to do with these headaches?

I wake up every morning with a low-grade headache which 90% of the time turns into a bad headache by mid-morning, and sometimes a migraine.

I would really welcome any and all suggestions for what long-term solutions have actually worked for you to give you a headache & migraine free existence (or as close to as possible, ie - one bad headache a month).

Thank you very very much in advance.
posted by katala to Health & Fitness (40 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
What is your caffeine intake like? Caffeine withdrawal can cause serious migraines.
posted by paperzach at 3:29 PM on November 30, 2008

Previously, seems to be some good linkiness/info/etc here.
posted by timsteil at 3:34 PM on November 30, 2008

Best answer: IANAD and this is purely anecdotal but my family is prone to quite bad migraines. My sister gets severe migraines (goes blind, blacks out, faints, etc) and a physician told her that going off the pill may help. She went off and ever since (almost 2 years) she has gone from severe migraines 2 times a month to *maybe* 1 every 5 or 6 months. She told me to do the same, so I took myself off the birth control pill and in the past 6 months I went from having them every month to none since. Maybe something to try.
posted by gwenlister at 3:34 PM on November 30, 2008

My migraines are light-triggered, which sometimes includes my computer monitor. Perhaps this could be contributing to the problem. I also had daily headaches for a while this year, and an increase in the frequency of my migraines. It turned out to be a sinus problem. Maybe worth checking out? I could breath through my nose, so it didn't occur to me, but the doctor suggested I try some sprays. They worked, but I've settled on saline rinses. Don't need corticosteroids thanks.
posted by sunshinesky at 3:35 PM on November 30, 2008

I should also note (I forgot that you mentioned birth control) that my migraines and headaches were much more frequent while on hormonal bc. I know it's crappy, but you should consider a copper IUD or barrier methods... I've been a much happier camper since I stopped taking the pill.
posted by sunshinesky at 3:37 PM on November 30, 2008

Do you have jaw and/or bite problems? What about sinus problems? My headaches/migraines improved quite a bit after I had jaw surgery (I had a serious bite problem that couldn't be fixed by braces alone), during which they also snipped out my sinus polyps. (Not that surgery is necessarily your only option if you do happen to have either problem.)

Also, have you had your thyroid levels checked? Thyroid disease (particularly hypothyroidism) can lead to chronic headaches and migraines. I'm on thyroid meds, and one of the ways I can sometimes tell my dosage needs adjustment (as it occasionally does) is by an uptick in headaches and nervousness.

How long have you been on the Yasmin? Have you tried a vacation from the pill to see if that might help?

For exercise, have you tried yoga?
posted by scody at 3:42 PM on November 30, 2008

Best answer: A friend swears that nothing works for her except a combination of acupuncture and chinese herbs prescribed by her acupuncturist. The herbs seem to be crucial; acupuncture alone doesn't work.
posted by Morpeth at 4:12 PM on November 30, 2008

I inherited migraines and headaches from my father. We both used to get headaches a few times a week, and I had migraines every couple of months or so. He recommended seeing a physiotherapist who gave him some great neck stretching exercises.

I spent a lot of money on a silicone pillow. I used to often wake up with a headache either from sleeping in or sleeping on a crappy pillow all night. No problems with this trigger after I bought this pillow.

I still get headaches and migraines as a result of my sinus problems, but I do find that exercise helps with keeping my sinus healthy and thus preventing headaches, I ride my bike to work and this is enough for me. scody mentions yoga, I would second this. I haven't done it much but I always feel great afterwards. Alternately, try meditation.
posted by wingless_angel at 4:26 PM on November 30, 2008

Also, is there a possibility of rebound headaches? If you have been taking medication on a regular basis, this could be part of your problem.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 4:35 PM on November 30, 2008 [2 favorites]

Have you been tested for other things? I had constant headaches for about 3 months when I had lyme disease, although I would imagine that after 10 years you'd have quite a few more symptoms than that.

Also, how long have you been on the pill? Yasmin gave me the only migraines I've ever had in my life, on a fairly regular basis, but I don't think that pill's even been on the market for that long.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 4:47 PM on November 30, 2008

few ideas - you don't mention if you've ever tried beta blockers or calcium channel blockers - these can be effective for headache prevention. Are you being seen through a headache center? They will have more focused expertise than your average gp. I have also seen studies describing people having good luck eliminating migraines with a couple of epilepsy drugs and also with Botox. Before trying any of those I would try keeping a log for a month - see if you can tie your migraines in particular to any food, drink, hormone changes, weather, etc and then try going on an allergy elimination diet - constant headaches may be caused by allergies.

I've been told that for a lot of headache sufferers regular but not horribly strenuous exercise is best. Personally I've found regular intense exercise helped more - when I'm fitter my headaches are often less intense.
posted by leslies at 4:48 PM on November 30, 2008

Best answer: Um, if you get migraines (especially with aura), you should talk to your doctor about whether you should be on the pill anyway. People with migraines and on the pill are at a much higher risk of stroke... As others have said, it might be making your headaches worse anyway.

I find drinking really cold coca-cola sometimes helps with my headaches, and it's not because I'm addicted to caffeine. My pharmacist friend reckons that there's an old migraine medicine which is chemically similar to caffeine, and also the coldness helps. But it sounds like your headaches are much more chronic then mine so this may be a rather trite suggestion in your case.

To be having headaches everyday is awful! I hope you find a solution!
posted by Emilyisnow at 4:49 PM on November 30, 2008

Best answer: See if your doctor can set up an MRI of the head and neck for you, to rule out any serious issues there that a CT scan would miss.
posted by phunniemee at 4:51 PM on November 30, 2008

Unsure if you are dealing with headaches as serious as cluster migraines, but there is some evidence that certain psychedelic drugs may help.
posted by roygbv at 5:04 PM on November 30, 2008

Is there a possibility it could be the anti-depressant causing you to clench your jaw which in turn is causing the headaches? I suffered from a severe headache for nearly two years including migraines with aura, tried every kind of anti-migraine medicine including but not limited to topamax, lyrica, and heavy duty painkillers to the point of being nearly zonked out and unable to function at work.

A new doctor believed the headache was because I was clenching my jaw and ordered me to stop taking everything I was taking including the Wellbutrin I been taking for years. Three days later, the headache and numbing, burning pain was gone! It was a miracle.

A couple of months later, I decided to start taking the wellbutrin again to see what would happen. Burning headache came back after three days and I could tell I was clenching again. Even 5-HTP will cause me to clench. Better to be a little depressed than have those dibilitating headaches IMO. By the way I was on wellbutrin for years before this all started.

Other symptoms I had included severe one-sided headache, facial numbness and burning to the point of being diagnosed with Bell's Palsy, feeling that my ears were stopped up all the time, swollen and hot feeling over my jaw area, nausea and vomiting from the headache. ALL of that went away when I got off the anti-depressant, pain meds, and topamax. I also had the dentist work on my bite a little, and now I can tell when I do clench, it's more evenly distributed and not nearly as severe. Have the dentist check your bite too.

Check and see if your tongue has scallops as this is a sign of jaw clenching.
posted by tamitang at 5:21 PM on November 30, 2008

Check out the book "Heal Your Headache". So many people recommend this book to migraine sufferers, and it is very practical. You might already be doing this, but definitely keep a journal of the different things you've tried, what you eat, how you sleep, etc. if you aren't already doing this. That way, you'll have some concrete info to discuss with your doctor.
posted by belau at 5:21 PM on November 30, 2008

sorry...bad link...try this http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/411517
posted by tamitang at 5:24 PM on November 30, 2008

Best answer: I'm prone to frequent headaches and birth control used to give me headaches. Maybe you should quit or switch brands? For me, once I quit, my headache frequency was cut in half.
posted by nikkorizz at 5:25 PM on November 30, 2008

Best answer: You should really, really see a neurologist.


Among other things, a neurologist can make sure that you don't have a brain tumor. But most importantly, they can help you diagnose this condition and treat it.
posted by YoungAmerican at 5:34 PM on November 30, 2008

Best answer: I went through a period of extreme low-grade stress at work which resulted in me having to fly out of the office at 4pm sharp, because if I did not, I would get hit with a migraine by 4:30, and then would not be able to drive home for several hours.

We thought it was allergies. We thought it was diet. We thought it was caffeine, wheat, dairy, a million things.

My massage therapist noticed it first: it was my shoulders hunching and hunching and hunching to the point that the bloodflow to my head was severely compromised, enough to bring the onset of the headaches. Yoga and massage, and getting a timer on my computer that rang every hour and told me to get up and walk around and move my body (I had days where I never moved, because every time I tried, someone was in my office for some reason).

I tell this story because it was the simplest solution and yet no one ever took a look at posture or anything like that (and my health care at the time was primarily focused on naturopathy).
posted by micawber at 6:10 PM on November 30, 2008 [1 favorite]

Yeah, you need a neurologist who specializes in migraine and related disorders, probably... and, probably, they're going to tell you to get off the Pill, so if you have a partner and you're not using condoms you should probably have a birth-control talk along with that appointment.

Anecdotally, I had focal neurological migraines-- auras, numbness in my hands, loss of vision, etc.-- on the combined Pill, ended up on the minipill years later under a doc's supervision... and things were fine until I accidentally doubled my dose once, after which I was guaranteed a migraine every night within an hour of taking my regular dose. Like obnoxious, hallucinatory clockwork. I stopped messing with hormonal contraception after that-- it was just a bad deal all around with my headaches.

The migraines resurged a bit in the last year, probably due to hormonal changes, and my doc prescribed a combination of over-the-counter pain meds at the first sign of migraine aura, to be followed up in an hour by a caffeine + ergotamine prescription medication if there was no improvement. I've been pretty good since then, even given my sinus problems and TMJ. (I'm also on blood pressure meds, which may have helped.)

I feel your pain-- my mother, grandfather, and sister are all migraineurs as well, and generally have many more migraines at a much more debilitating level than I've experienced. Good luck finding a specialist; there's got to be something better than straight painkillers for you.
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 6:16 PM on November 30, 2008

Same thing roygbv said.. http://clusterbusters.com/
posted by TorontoSandy at 6:29 PM on November 30, 2008

Best answer: For starters: see your doctor! They may recommend an MRI to check for tumors. However, sometimes all they can do is perscribe a migraine medicine, which in my case caused me to feel generally icky although at least functional.

I see someone already recommended the book Heal Your Headache. I emphatically second that recommendation. His premise is that there are a number of things which cumulatively cause the headaches, meaning adding one more trigger (any trigger) will push you over the edge into pain. The book has a program for sort of detoxing, removing as many of those triggers as possible to minimize the trigger levels and diagnose what causes the pain. All kinds of things can push you over the edge into headaches, including various foods, headache medicine, alcohol, lack of exercise...

Things that worked for me:
--Monthly-ish massages to ease the tension in my shoulders and neck
--Regular yoga, even just 15 minutes every few days
--No more than 1 glass of wine
--***3x weekly vigorous exercise, best if longer than 40 minutes***

That last is the very most important for me. There is a very noticable decline in my well-being if I don't get enough aerobic exercise. Does exercise give you a headache so bad you can't consider it? Because if you can do it on a good day, and tolerate the resulting headache, or exercise before bed and then sleep off the headache, maybe you can get the ball rolling that way. Otherwise, if you think headaches might be in any way related to body strain, I would try starting off with a massage, maybe two or three weeks in a row if you can afford it, and get started with some yoga.
posted by lemonade at 6:29 PM on November 30, 2008

Something environmental, perhaps? Have you lived in the same place and worked in the same job this whole time? (no idea what it could be, just an idea)
posted by PercussivePaul at 6:30 PM on November 30, 2008

I have tried everything I can think of short of surgery but nothing besides taking painkillers seems to help (and those only a little these days).

You don't mention trying triptans. They are a godsend. People who get occasional migraines can take them when they feel one coming on, but I have heard of people taking them daily as a preventative. In the US, you need a prescription, but one of them (sumatriptan) is OTC in the UK. They are contraindicated with many antidepressants though due to serotonin syndrome. I am sure it would be contraindicated with Xydep (sertraline--brand name zoloft in US) since it is an SSRI.
posted by Violet Hour at 6:43 PM on November 30, 2008

Best answer: this is purely anecdotal based on my own experience, but try breathe right strips. for a few years i would wake up with a low grade headache that would progress throughout the day into something worse. for whatever reason, i think because of allergies, i decided to try the breathe right strips at night to open up my nasal passages. my morning headaches went almost completely away. seriously. instead of 7 days a week, now i get them 1 or 2 days a week, which is a massive improvement to me. just the little additional oxygen i was getting at night because of the breathe right strips really helped! alternately, you may want to look into a cpap machine to help you breath at night. you'd want to see an ent about this if you haven't already.

as for the migraines, i used to get several a month, but now i get 1 or 2. i can't say why this has changed, so i don't want to hazard a guess for you.
posted by misanthropicsarah at 8:05 PM on November 30, 2008

Another totally anecdotal answer: Have you been tested for food allergies? My mom gets migraines from onions and it was years before she figured out (and had confirmed by tests) that that was the cause of her migraines. Onions are in so many different types of food in so many different forms that it never occurred to her that it might be the case...who thinks about the onion powder in things like chicken broth?

Now I'm not saying you get migraines from onions necessarily, but similar migraine-causing food allergies might be worth looking into if you haven't.
posted by wuzandfuzz at 9:42 PM on November 30, 2008

For me quitting drinking caffeinated soda dropped my headaches down from at least weekly to around every three months. (green tea doesn't seem to bother me but it's the only caffeine I have). That said, getting actual migraine drugs for when I do get them has been a huge improvement.
posted by kbuxton at 9:57 PM on November 30, 2008

I was in a similar place some time back. Waking up with low-grade headaches nearly every day, growing into full-blown migraines. I visited a neurologist, got the scans, etc, nothing, but I was told to reduce my stress levels. Now they're much rarer though my stress levels are about the same.

It helped me to think of headaches as not caused by this or that, but as occuring within a matrix of triggers. Any one of these could spark a headache, a combination could make it worse. Most of these were, in my case, stress-related, but there wasn't a lot I could do to reduce the stress, only to recognise the triggers and be prepared to deal with them as they happened.

Some of my triggers were MSG, stress, certain weather conditions, menstruation, coffee (but not strong tea) lack of water, immersive work, and noisy/ busy environments with lots of bustling people.

Same with treatment. If a low-grade headache started in the middle of the day, the best way to deal with it was a Paracetamol as soon as I noticed it. Maybe a cup of strong tea, but no coffee. If I waited, the headache would stay and grow.

Waking up with the headache: usually not a lot I could do, though leaping out of bed and dashing into a shower helped to keep me going through the work day. These worked with me, and may or may not for you. The key was paying full attention, relieving the triggers when I could, and managing as my body seemed to want.
posted by tavegyl at 10:32 PM on November 30, 2008

Best answer: Thanks heaps for your answers!

You know come to think of it the 10 years I've been getting these headaches & migraines co-incides with 10 years ago when I went on the pill ! I just didn't get headaches before then, but I also started getting depression before I went on the pill (pill happened a few months later) so I always figured it was some sort of hormonal change I had no control over.

I will book in to see a neurologist and take it from there. General doctors have so far been completely useless for me. I will try those breathe right strips too, thank you!

Also regarding going off the pill is there anything particular I should do or be prepared for (other than alternative contraceptive methods)?? For those who went off it did you experience any withdrawal symptoms (headaches / migraines / mood-swings etc) while your body adjusted?

Thank you again very much. If there's any more comments please keep them coming!
posted by katala at 10:33 PM on November 30, 2008

Also regarding going off the pill is there anything particular I should do or be prepared for (other than alternative contraceptive methods)?? For those who went off it did you experience any withdrawal symptoms (headaches / migraines / mood-swings etc) while your body adjusted?

I can't speak for everyone, but literally within a couple of days of going off hormonal birth control, I started to feel better than I had in years. No kidding. All the side effects that had slowly driven me nuts cleared up within about two weeks.
posted by scody at 11:44 PM on November 30, 2008

Speaking just for myself, I didn't really feel any different going off the pill. I certainly didn't have any withdrawal problems as such. I'm pretty sure I get less headaches these days but I went from the pill to the mini-pill to completely off it, so it's a less clear cut time frame for me.

I was thinking about this a bit more, and if you're waking up with your headaches, maybe it is tension related as others have mentioned? Is it possible you could be grinding your teeth in your sleep, or just clenching them from stress during the day? Clenching your teeth activates a lot of muscles in your head - try doing it whilst touching just behind your temple and on the side of your jaw. A dentist can probably see from wear marks on your teeth if you're doing this so if you haven't been to the dentist in years maybe that's something to try too.
posted by Emilyisnow at 3:24 AM on December 1, 2008

I can't speak for everyone, but literally within a couple of days of going off hormonal birth control, I started to feel better than I had in years. No kidding. All the side effects that had slowly driven me nuts cleared up within about two weeks.

Me too. I used to get migraines once every couple of months or so and haven't had more than 1 or 2 in the 10 years I've been off the pill. My mood is also much more stable, I don't feel like things throw me off as much.

For whatever reason I have found that doctors tend to chronically underestimate the number of people who have side effects from the pill, even at low dosages. To the point that in the past I have had doctors tell me it's unlikely I did get migraines from the pill! (Don't get me started on that rant...)

But you should probably see a neurologist anyway, just to rule out any more severe causes. Headaches every day is pretty extreme.
posted by miss tea at 3:32 AM on December 1, 2008

Did you know that some foods can trigger migraines? You mention that your diet is "good" but lots of healthy foods can actually trigger migraines. There's a list here, and some of the migraine-triggers on the list include:
  • Peanuts
  • Beans
  • Ripe Bananas
I would check out those things and eliminate them from your diet.
posted by frecklefaerie at 9:08 AM on December 1, 2008

This sounds exactly like me, up until a few months ago!

Like other posters have said, the pill could be one culprit. There is also some risk of anti-depressants contributing to your chronic headache; this is a common side-effect that many docs miss (or underestimate) somehow. I recently switched docs and my new doc was really alarmed that my prior doc had put me on Zoloft and then on Elavil to combat the migraines. She said that the Zoloft was probably a big contributing factor for headache. We upped the Elavil and cut the Zoloft and it's been AMAZING the reduction in headache.

I still get periodic migraines, and often have low-grade head pain. But it's -nothing- like it was before. Check with your doctor and see if there is maybe a different med that might have a lower risk of headache. You don't say what you are on anti-depressants for, but Elavil/Amitriptylene is a very old-school anti-depressant that doesn't get discussed much anymore these days (since it's fully generic/super-cheap) so you might ask about that as it's being prescribed more often as a migraine prophylactic and it might do double-duty for you.
posted by dryad at 9:51 AM on December 1, 2008

Another vote for a headache specialist to consider migraine-specific meds - they are a miracle for me (I take Imitrex). The things that stand out to me in your description are the frequency (makes me think of rebounds) and the birth control pills (most women's migraines have some hormonal character). For me, after lowering my caffeine, breaking the rebound cycle and carrying Imitrex around all the time (my doctor's instructions were it worked best as a preventative - she said to take it if anything about my pain made me even THINK it might be a migraine) - I am down to a few aborted headaches a month and only three or four a year that really blossom.

Please - you need to see a neurologist, and let them adjust your regimen. They should be able to find something that gives you considerable relief.

Side note - I was treated by a doctor in Australia once, and there was a different name for every medication there compared to the U.S. You may want to translate all the drug names here into Australian-ese.
posted by AuntLisa at 1:25 PM on December 1, 2008

Best answer: Thought I would provide an update for those reading this post in future :) I've been off the pill for just over a month now and have already noticed a decrease in the intensity and length of my headaches, and have not had a migraine as yet.

I've also had really good success with those BreatheRight strips (thanks misanthropicsarah!), those things are amazing, the very first morning I woke up after using them I felt better than I had in ages and did not wake up with a headache which was lovely!

I've booked in to see a neurologist but my appointment isn't for another 2 months yet.
posted by katala at 4:13 AM on January 1, 2009 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Another update for future MeFites, I'm VERY happy to report my headaches have now reduced to one or NONE a day! It's heavenly! :)

The things that I believe have contributed are:

- Going off the contraceptive pill

- Using the Breathe Right strips every night

- Taking Magnesium every day (I take one of these each morning)

- Taking a Vitamin B supplement every day (I take one of these each morning)
posted by katala at 1:36 PM on January 23, 2009 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Final post - I'm just adding the resolved tag to this one.

It's now 13 May and my anti-headache regime continues to work really well. For me this is (as stated above) in order of importance:

- NOT taking the contraceptive pill

- Using a Breathe Right strip each night to help with congestion

- 1 x Blackmores Bio Magnesium tablet daily

- 1 x Blackmores Vitamin B tablet daily

It took ten years but thanks to much persistence, trial-and-error, and this wonderful community, I am now free of constant headaches and it's fantastic - literally a dream come true. Thank you again!

My advice to anyone facing the same problem is don't give up, keep trying things, you will find the unique solution that works for you (although the remedies I now use - above - are an excellent place to start).

Signing off, and thanks again!!

posted by katala at 3:49 PM on May 12, 2009 [3 favorites]

Hey, Katala, that's great!! So glad to hear it.
posted by miss tea at 4:17 AM on May 13, 2009

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