The Art of Headache Management
The National Headache Foundation has designated June as Migraine and Headache Awareness Month.
This year’s theme is “The Art of Migraine and Headache Management.”
Since its inception in 2012, a social media and blogging challenge is issued to encourage those affected by headache disorders to share facts and dispel stigma. There is a new fact each day, along with a prompt for bloggers.
Today’s Prompt: “Please discuss elements that go into Migraine and Headache management in addition to medical knowledge.”
Art and science working together
There’s definitely an art to managing multiple headache disorders. For the past three years, I have enjoyed the best Migraine and Cluster Headache management in 45 years. That success is due, in part, to advances in medical treatments. Yet the single greatest factor has been my own attitude. When I started taking charge of my own health care, Migraine and Cluster Headache symptoms began to improve.
Hire the right doctor
My doctor is highly skilled and well-qualified to treat both Migraine and Cluster Headache. That, in itself, has made a significant impact on my success. There are a lot of primary care doctors and neurologists who treat Migraine. In my case, specialized care was required. I have two chronic headache disorders, one of which is rare (particularly for women) complicated by fibromyalgia and depression. I needed a true headache specialist to be my treatment partner.
Take personal responsibility
While the right doctor is a good start, it’s not enough just to keep appointments and take medications as instructed. 80% of my successful Migraine and Cluster Headache management is the result of my own behavior, attitude, and education. Good outcomes don’t happen by accident. Had I been the passive recipient of my doctor’s instructions, I might still be facing down near-daily attacks. Instead, I kept meticulous records of my symptoms, making adjustments in my lifestyle in response to the patterns I discovered. My doctor can administer Botox injections and prescribe medications, but he can’t make me eat regular, nutritious meals, drink enough water, or get enough sleep. These lifestyle factors are essential to my success.
Create a treatment toolbox
I still get occasional attacks. Fortunately, they respond to treatment most of the time, so I no longer lose entire days to Migraine or Cluster Headache attacks. I believe that successful acute treatment happens for several reasons:
- Effective preventive treatment
- Use of abortive treatment at the first sign of an attack
- Conservative use of pain medication, limited to 2-3 times per week
- Generous use of non-medical comfort measures
Some of my most effective comfort measures include:
- Wearable ice packs
- TENS unit
- Heat packs
- FL-41 tinted glasses
- Noise-cancelling headphones
- Custom-designed “migraine cave”
My toolbox is always with me. It doesn’t matter if it’s been one hour or one month since my last attack. I never leave home without it. These comfort strategies are as essential to my good health as a wheelchair is to someone with paralysis. They are my disability accommodations—the tools I need to access the world.
Don’t forget mental health
Depression and anxiety are common in both Migraine and Cluster Headache. The same neurotransmitters involved in mental illness are also involved in headache disorders and pain perception. Fortunately, my doctor and I have found creative ways to utilize medical treatments that serve double or triple-duty. I practice mindfulness-based relaxation techniques to encourage proactive, realistic thinking. It is my protection against old thinking habits that might threaten my sense of hope.
Cultivate a supportive tribe
Life with Migraine and Cluster Headache is hard enough. The love and support from others is essential. So I take time to nurture those relationships that enhance my well-being. My closest friends and family are those who understand the unique needs of my diseases. They give me strength and purpose, making my world much brighter, even in the midst of pain and disability.