'I treat my headaches early'
Sickle Cell Disease
When Ken Freirich started getting headaches in his early 30s, he didn't know what was causing them. The pain, which started around his temples, would linger for a few days and he'd become nauseated as well. Over time, the headaches became more frequent, striking seven to 10 times a month or more. They became a disruption to his life; he had to cancel social plans and come home from work early. Ken, a 44-year-old executive in Montvale, NJ, discovered the problem was migraines when he went to see his healthcare provider, who prescribed a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory.
Unfortunately, the migraines persisted, and Ken didn't know what was triggering them. One day he was at work and noticed the strong air-conditioning bothered him. Over time, he figured out that cold air was the cause of his headaches, which became worse in the winter. "I wore a hat to bed and in the house, and it helped," says Ken. But he was still getting more than 10 migraines per month. "This was no way to live," he says.
Ken decided to see a neurologist. The doctor advised Ken to start tracking his migraines'to log when he got them, how long they lasted and how severe they were. He also prescribed a triptan medication, which can stop a migraine in its tracks. "I learned I had to treat the headaches early," says Ken. "The faster I treated them, the faster they would go away." Whenever Ken was exposed to cold air and started to get a migraine, he'd take a prescription nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory, and the headache would go away. If it didn't, he would take a triptan.
Today, Ken gets only a few very mild migraines per month. He treats them so quickly that he rarely needs to take a triptan. Recently, he had to host a work-related dinner for 500 people, and he felt a migraine coming on. He took his medication and was fine. "I feel very fortunate that I've identified my trigger and have a treatment plan that works," he says. "I worked with my doctor to get to the point that migraines don't interfere with my life."
Make Ken's strategies work for you
" If one medication isn't working, try another. "You'll need to experiment to find the right one," says Ken.
" Consider seeing a specialist. "If your case is difficult or unusual, you may want to see a headache specialist," says Ken.
" Be prepared. "There's not a day I leave the house without my medication," says Ken. He also takes his hat with him wherever he goes. "Being prepared is half the battle," he says.
'I took a preventive therapy'
For Carmella Engels, 52, of Phoenix, migraines appeared like a bolt out of the blue. "Until nine years ago, I didn't really have headaches at all," she says. "Suddenly, I was having them all the time." She made an appointment with a neurologist who diagnosed her with Chronic Migraine.
In the meantime, Carmella found herself snapping at co-workers and family members. "A migraine feels like there's a monster living inside my head," she says. "I became irritable."
Then, about four years ago, Carmella's doctor suggested she try a preventive medication, and the relief was practically immediate: "My headaches dropped from more than 15 days a month to half that, then a quarter," she says. "It was life-changing." She also makes a point of avoiding her triggers, which include extreme stress and insufficient sleep.
Make Carmella's strategies work for you
" Don't ditch your treatment plan. When Carmella tried to go off her medication, her headaches came back with a vengeance.
" Find out how to manage your headaches at work. Carmella often needed to shut her office door and dim the lights. Your doctor can help you find a treatment plan that will minimize disruptions to your schedule.
'I found the right medication'
When MJ Boensch turned 40 in 2009, she had a lot to celebrate'two healthy kids and a new home in Upper Saucon Township, PA. Then she started to get migraines. She was prescribed a medication that didn't help. "I'd have to cancel my plans and rely on my husband to take care of our kids, who were only 2 and 5 at the time," says MJ.
Eventually, she was given two different antiseizure drugs and an antidepressant, which she couldn't tolerate. "There wasn't a day I didn't worry that a migraine was coming," she recalls. MJ switched to a new doctor who gave her a prescription nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug as a daily preventive therapy. She hasn't had a migraine in a month and is hopeful the headaches won't return. "I'm relieved," she says.
Make MJ's strategies work for you
" Take control. Talk regularly with your healthcare provider so you can come up with the best treatment plan for you.
" Review medications with your healthcare provider. "Whenever you get a new prescription, tell your doctor about any over-the-counter medications you're taking to make sure everything is compatible," says MJ.
'I went fragrance-free'
For Suzette Jacobs, 53, it was easy to tell what brought on her migraines: strong odors. "Every time I got near a perfume counter or went to the laundry room, I got an instant migraine," says the stay-at-home mom in New York City.
Luckily, between avoiding troublesome scents and using triptans to head off attacks, Suzette has slashed her migraine attacks from near constant to just one headache every few months. "Now I notice natural smells much more," says Suzette.
Make Suzette's strategies work for you
" Order online. "I order Seventh Generation Natural Hand Wash in Just Clean Unscented and Method Laundry Detergent in Free + Clear in bulk so I don't run out."
" Look for these words: fragrance-free! There's a difference between unscented and fragrance-free products, Suzette warns. Some unscented products contain fragrance maskers.
" Filter offensive odors. Suzette tucks coffee beans in a zip-lock bag and carries them wherever she goes. A sniff helps mask offensive odors. She also carries a charcoal filter mask, which filters respiratory irritants. Charcoal filter masks are available via Amazon.com.
'I got rid of the glare'
For Jan Melara, migraines have been a 24-year struggle. She first noticed glare was a problem when she was in her 30s. "I remember squinting into the sun one day and feeling my right shoulder tighten up the way it does when a headache is starting," says Jan, 57, a former
nursing supervisor in Laurens, SC. "I had a headache that evening." That helped explain why she had gotten so many headaches at work: "The hospital had fluorescent lighting, and it bothered my eyes."
Today, she stays away from overhead lights whenever possible and wears sunglasses whenever she's outside or near a window. "I try to avoid situations in which I'll be exposed to glare, such as kayaking into the setting sun," she says. She also avoids stress as much as possible. Now, she gets only three migraines per month, down from 15 or more. "I can actually be myself now," she says. "It's as if a curtain has opened to reveal a lovely new life!'
Make Jan's strategies work for you
" Always have shades on hand. "When I have to buy prescription glasses, I always get photochromic lenses [the kind that darken automatically]," says Jan. "But since they don't darken enough when I'm inside a car, I wear dark sunglasses instead."
" Pick the right lighting. "Overhead lighting, especially fluorescent, contributes to my headaches, so I use lamps whenever possible," says Jan. She purchases daylight-spectrum bulbs for places where overhead lighting is unavoidable, like the bathroom.
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