Saturday, April 20, 2013

Surviving Migraines

I know I haven’t been posting as I used to do before… and this post is not a vague excuse to attempt to restart my blogging habits.

You might be asking yourself, how are migraines related to migrating to Australia?

The answer is quite simple, I suffer migraines and this is my experience of the medical treatment even since I got to Australia and my current status.

One of the migraine monsters in my head - by Migraine Chick

A little bit of context is needed, right? In case you don’t want to read it (as it might be longer than expected) jump further down to where it says “shall we move onto the actual post?” where I am relating the one thing it has stopped (or at least have under control) my migraine attacks.

Well… wanted or not here it goes.

I am a migraine victim, have been ever since I turned 7 years and I can still remember that first one like it happened yesterday.

I was sitting in the living room couch watching T.V (we used to have dinner at 6p.m) while waiting for dinner when out of nowhere bright orbs appeared in front of me. Scared of it (as I thought I was going crazy) went running to mom to tell her what was going on but her reply at the moment was that I had enough T.V, giving the sign to stay close to her in the kitchen as she was going to finish up cooking to serve dinner.

My dad was not around; he was either at a party or travelling and my sister was with the door shut closed in her bedroom listing to music; music that I could hear from the kitchen getting mixed with the noise of the frying pan scratching the surface of the cook, and the small radio my mom had hidden under the table with that little bit of static it never went away, and the T.V still making those extremely loud noises (unintelligible from where I was). Every single sound was getting increasingly loud and I was getting increasingly annoyed by every single one of them.

A spoon slipped from my mom’s hand, hitting the ground… to me it was like millions of spoons emanating a hideous high frequency getting to my nerves… the BOM BOM noise coming from my sis bedroom was too much to bare! Stood up, went to her bedroom and hit the door as hard as I could, open it wide. A very stupid move as the noise of the wood vibrating against the frame amplified my bad mood. Told her to turn off the damned noise! That it was too loud! Obviously she was upset and slammed the door in my face right away yelling ‘GET OUT OF MY ROOM!’

At this point I was very cranky, more than I usually was, walked to the kitchen to tell on Vanessa’s behaviour but when I looked up to see my mom’s face the light was too bloody bright and my head was starting to hurt badly. Asked her why did she changed the light bulbs, these ones were too bright and my head was starting to hurt! (rational thought of a kid: "lights seems brighter.. mom changed bulbs.. obviously!")

My mom looked at me with a puzzled face and told me “Here! Give it a try on this and tell me if you think I need a bit more salt…” Took the spoon with a little bit of stew, the vapour with the aroma got to my face and my stomach went mental! The nausea stroke hard, making me chunder right away causing panic on my mom.

Are you alright? Did you hit your head? What do you feel?

I told her that my head was hurting because of Vanessa’s loud music, her spoon hitting the floor, the radio static, the T.V, the bright light and the awful smell of the food (worst thing to say to my mom - the cook).

She understood right away what was going on, went around the kitchen turning off everything and closing the doors. Took a piece of cloth and placed it on my ears while asking “Is that better?” I nodded but my head was painfully heavy now.

She took a bag, filled it up with cold water and placed it on my neck asking again “how does that feels?” It was better; I could feel my cold blood going up my neck, into my skull alleviating the sharp pain on the side of my head. Went to my sister’s room, ordering her to turn off the music as I was having a headache, proceeding then to escort me to her bedroom tell me to wait there for an hour.

Laying on her bed I could feel knives scratching the surface of my skull… trying to get out unsuccessfully… I could tell time was going by as I was listening clinks at the dining table and my mom popping every now and then into her room with a glass of cold water for me to drink it. Eventually the clinking stopped my sister said her good nights going to bed and my mom coming in with another glass of water and a couple of aspirins.

Take these, you will feel better in no time!” whilst taking a sit close to me, caressing my hair… I told her to stop as I could hear my hair making strange noises against my skull… I think I even told her not to touch me at all as every interaction was painful. She stood up, took the bag with now warm water going to the kitchen to fetch more cold water, placing the now cold bad back on my neck telling to try to sleep as it was late. Turned to take a look of the time and it was two in the morning… I could feel as the pain was coming stronger and the cold sensation of my blood getting into my head had stopped.

I stood up heading to the fridge and took a jar of cold water pouring it on my head. The water was exceptionally cold but I could feel again the easing sensation. Took a bunch of ice cubes, put it on a towel and walked back into the room. Told my mom that I was going to use it as a pillow (having my neck placed straight on the ice cubes) and stood there for a couple of minutes until my body decided to let go and feel asleep.

Woke up again with the pulsating sharp pain, soaked wet with my mom on my side, turned around to look at the time and it was 5 in the morning. My mom woke up as well as asked me “how do you feel champ?” to what I replied “Mom? Am I dying? Why isn’t the pain going away?”... I was not trying to be dramatic with that statement I was feeling my head about to explode, my eyes pushing outwards and an intense pain going through every centimetre of my body; I had broken bones before that an this was way more intense than anything else I had suffer up to that day.

She stood up, dressed me up and took me to E.R. One hour later I was completely sedated going back home to sleep for the next 10 hours.

Ever since then the “crisis” (migraine attack phase) because worst and for longer periods of times getting to the critical point of 9 months straight with the same migraine, forgetting what it was "not to have" migraines. At that moment doctors had me reduce my diet to just few things (rice and boiled chicken with no salt... that is grey rubber chicken... YUM!), getting my blood stable and start all over again to continue with tests. At school my classmates got used to call me “migraine boy” (like the MTV character) whenever I was moody as they knew what was going on; finding a new drug that worked for the next two to three months to then started research for the next one. I spent so much time at the doctor that I got increasingly skeptic any new drug was going to work for a longer period of time and decided to just “survive “ the migraine episodes as I was not going to put my entire life on hold because of it. Eventually a doctor found a good combination of drugs (a mixture of fluoxetine a brain oxygenation drugs and rizatriptan) that worked for two years in a row and gave me enough drugs to continue while I got everything back on track in Australia.

What happened to the migraine once I got to Australia?

Shortly after my arrival I decided to pay a visit to the local drug store with my prescription (written on English) just to find out the prescription had to be written by an Australian doctor… Thinking it wasn’t going to be too much hassle to go to the doctor and get a new recipe I waited until my medication ran out and had to get a new batch… But for some strange reason my migraines disappeared for almost one year… Don’t know what was it: change of environment? Was it the fresher air? Or was it the decrease of stress in comparison to America?

Eventually (motivated for a pretty strong flu) went to the GP with the assumption he/she was going to take my previous recipe and generate a new one but his response was “until you don’t have a migraine episode we are not going to do anything… For all I know your migraines might be gone! If you get an episode give it a try to the any headache drug and see how it goes

Inevitably the day came; I was at the office when everything started happening quite fast. First the light orbs, then the noise and the light. I was going through my things trying to find the Tylenol and Ibuprofen as fast as I could but it was useless… It took about 15 minutes that I could recognise as the prodromal and the aura phase (early stages of migraine) before the attack phase started doing its own thing. My mates at work saw me and told me to go home as soon as I could but again… it was useless, the bloody migraine lasted four entire days.

Went to the GP on the second day to ask for the fluoxetine and the rizatriptan prescription, getting as response an extensive inquiry of why I wanted to do with those drugs. The doctor was refusing to provide me with the prescription even though I told him to contact my previous doctor in Venezuela to get his diagnosis providing me with quotes of “I find extremely suspicious you got here with this ‘alleged’ bad migraine attack… You could be addicted to these drugs, using the excuse of migraine to request for your doze. Let’s do a ‘clean up’ phase to verify if you really have migraine to then continue with whatever drugs you used to have. But I am going to tell you… fluoxetine is not for migraines and is highly addictive!

Finding a good doctor is hard and bad doctors are not easy to spot as this fellow.

He sent me home with a panadol box (the weakest thing you could probably imagine) that did nothing that entire day; feeling pretty bad decided to go to a different GP and explain everything yet again while the migraine was happening (that was on day three). Taking a deep look on myself and asking me when was the last time I used those drugs, the doctor decided to give me codeine the stop the migraine entirely, leaving me to rest with a different drug and comeback to me with a fresh mind without the attack episode full on.

It took a while (almost four months) until the doctor allowed me to go back to rizatriptan giving me a prescription indicating how to dispense the drug to me with limitations (as the rizatriptan may cause renal impairment) working for a while… but then, with my marriage failing, depression striking hard and stress migraines came back with or without the rizatriptan; my life was utterly miserable as the migraine was affecting everything I did. I had to move on and continue searching for alternatives.

Every now and then headaches went away, enough time to allow me to ride my bicycle and exercise, losing weight as I was moving into a healthier diet based entirely on eating the way it should be (heavy breakfast, medium lunch, and light dinner without anything that might be metabolized as sugar).

Even still migraine continued to strike every time it could.

Note: my experience with healthcare in Australia has been a mixture of good and bad experiences. Dealing with migraines has been a nightmare as most GPs will discard your symptoms and assume you want to take drugs just for the hell of it. It may well be a problem with the migraine itself as anybody who suffered a strong headache says “I suffer migraines” without any medical report actually assessing the condition, or maybe there is a hidden problem to which I am completely unaware and Australians try to get any kind of renal impairment drugs just to get more kick out of a beer; honestly I doubt the last one. I am going to continue telling my experiences with medicare later on as I have to comment on my knees surgery.

But that is enough boring history about my migraines… Shall we move onto the actual post?

The real reason why I have got to this post is to comment on a new treatment I am following and it has proven (at least on myself) extremely promising. More or less seven (7) months ago I started taking magnesium as daily supplement and most of my nasty episodes (attacks) have stopped or became completely manageable.

Shortly after my knee surgery a friend (later on my girl) went home to take care of me as I was unable to walk freely when see commented out about an article (and book) she happened to stumble upon saying how effective the magnesium was against migraines and some muscular related diseases. I was quite skeptic about this efficiency as I had multivitamins for long periods of time and couldn’t find anything satisfactory about it (related to migraines)… so another daily supplement wasn’t going to be helping me to deal with my migraines… or so I thought.

Went online to read about this miracle cure she was speaking of, finding dozens of articles about people being treated with one high doze per day to remove magnesium deficiencies have found as a lucky side effect an effective migraine prevention tool… I was still skeptic as I couldn’t find any medical paper indicating such discoveries but in a state where I agreed to read a book about it and eventually was informed enough to give it a try (which I am going to describe below) and after one month my frequent migraine went away. Up to this day there have been just three episodes of migraine and all of them have been under control in matters of hours.

Now, I have to add a disclaimer: I read lots of articles and two books about magnesium and migraines (one other book after I started treating myself) and I must say it is not a magical solution for everybody although it might help making you feel better overall. Nevertheless the magnesium is an important component of our body; you have nothing to lose by giving it a try.

What do I do? Where to start?

First thing… check with your doctor in case you have some condition that prevents you from having magnesium. Then find the right type of magnesium for you and you have to be patience, migraines will not go away after two days (although it will go pretty fast).

There are several things you need to know about magnesium before use it as treatment… that is the main reason of why you need to find the right one for you.
The magnesium has laxative effects if your body doesn’t process it so you better do the trial when you know you will have a bathroom at your disposal. Because of this same reason you don’t start with a full on full doze.

Lots of food contains magnesium... but is hard to absorb by the body.
You might need to use supplements.

Another thing I found out reading papers and books: magnesium and calcium does not mix because of a very weird thing our body does… This is important to know as the magnesium will be more effective when your digestive system doesn’t have calcium (that includes dairy products, calcium tablets and multivitamins… especially multivitamins!!).

What type of magnesium is right for me?

Magnesium as such is a mineral… pretty tough for our digestive system (in fact, most of the times it goes in and out of your body without being absorbed) and because of that is mixed with different types of transporting substances to may have different behaviours on each of us.

Look up online the differences between each of the magnesium listed below, but have in mind that pretty cheap magnesium powder or pill are usually made with cheap poor transports that doesn’t really work.

  • Magnesium Orotate (Excellent source of magnesium)
  • Magnesium Amino Acid Chelate (Pretty good as well)
  • Magnesium Citrate (Low in magnesium but is absorbed almost entirely)
  • Magnesium Chloride (good)
  • Magnesium Lactate (Is moderately good, but you have to avoid it if you have kidney problems)
  • Magnesium Glycinate, Malate, Taurate (this is the only source of magnesium that can be mixed with calcium)
  • Magnesium Sulfate (this is one of those that are pretty cheap)
  • Magnesium Carbonate (The CHEAPEST you can get… pretty bad as supplement… excellent as a laxative)
  • Magnesium Oxide (this is also known as magnesia, it can prevent reflux and be used as a laxative… but isn’t great as a supplement)
Here you can find a bit more description of the types of magnesium or here.

Which one was right for me?

I don’t know if the brand is important… but the one I am using at the moment has a mixture of Magnesium orotate and amino acid chelate as the main components followed by Chloride and Taurate and small quantities of magnesium oxide. It cost close to 60 bucks per 300 grams every three to four months (about 3 grams a day).

Ok, I bought it… now what?

The recommendation is to start with small quantities. If the container says “take 2 grams twice a day” you will take 1 gram just once… checking your tolerance for a week or two after which you may want to increase slightly the amount to continue checking the tolerance, eventually you will hit the limit indicated by the container. Avoid calcium two hours before or one hour after having the magnesium, that is avoid dairy (milk, cheese, yogurt or any good source of calcium).

Any mineral or vitamin is best absorbed during the morning, given the magnesium is hard enough to get in your system, try having it early in the morning with fruits and plenty of water. Avoid multivitamins as well as all of those have calcium in it.

How do I know if I am doing it correctly?

If you are having it in the morning (as I am doing it) having at least two glasses of water (one glass of just water and another glass with the magnesium in it) you will notice it in your pee colour as it will be pale in colour (or almost transparent)... assuming you pee many times a day.

If you pee is bright yellow it means the mineral was flushed away from your body as it was blocking some other process and needed to be removed from the system. That was one of the first things I learnt about multivitamins… all of them suck as you bought something to have an expensive wee.

If after a while (three weeks) you don’t notice any significant reduction of your migraines intensity or frequency then the magnesium might not be helping.

Final words of this post

I must say, I was quite skeptical the magnesium was going to free me of migraines… and even though I had three other migraines on the last seven months I am quite happy I gave it a try and that it works.

Finding the right one can be unpleasant (one of the blends I tried made me very gassy and another one had a terrible taste) nevertheless it was better than having migraines every week for three or four days.

I had to adjust my diet to fit the magnesium in a spot where I was not going to be having any dairy products (such as cheese or milk) for a period of time of three hours but is not impossible (and definitely not a sacrifice).

If you suffer of migraines I will recommend you to give it a try as well.



treaz said...

Hey Rod,happy to hear that you've found a cure for those migraines. I had no ideas they could be sooo bad.

treaz said...

Hey Rod, this is the third time I'm writing the same comment (after failing to submit it once from my phone and once it got lost after i got authenticated in blogger).

So I'm really happy to hear that you've found a cure for those migraines. I never imagined that they would be sooo bad (and from your description they don't seem that fun as tripping on casual drugs :) )

Rod said...

Yeah mate, migraines can be pretty nasty and difficult to handle.

In any case, I am very happy I could get to this solution that is not as high impact as drugs.