Sorting Out My Hormonal/Menstrually Associated Migraines

As the frequency of my migraine episodes has reduced this year, I was finally able to tell that I always get a migraine the first and second or third day of my period. Today once again provided confirmation.

My plan was to try hormonal birth control, like the pill, as a preventive. Researching this post has me reconsidering. Turns out women with migraine who use birth control pills are eight times more likely to have a stroke than women who don’t. This applies to everyone with migraine, not just those with aura (who are twice as likely to have a stroke than migraineurs who don’t have visual auras).

Other treatment options exist. Most of them I’ve already taken without success. Magnesium, which I think is responsible for decreasing the frequency of my migraines, is a common treatment. Unfortunately I’m already at the highest dose of magnesium I appear to be able to tolerate without extreme nausea.

I found on headache specialist Christina Peterson’s website that a small study of black cohosh shows it may be effective in treating menstrually associated migraine. Because there has only been one study, there is no confirmation that it works. Nonetheless, I’ll be researching black cohosh extensively. It is in the same family as rununculus, one of my favorite flowers — maybe that’s a sign it will help my head!

I thought hormonal birth control would be the ticket. A stroke would certainly be worse than having two more migraines a month.

If your migraines are associated with your menstrual cycle, please let me know if you’ve found an effective treatment. Leave a comment below or respond to the forum post with your suggestions.

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Lower Risk of Breast Cancer for Women With Migraine

Finally, some good news for migraineurs. Women with migraine had a 30 percent lower risk of breast cancer than those without, according to a recently released study. Hormonal changes, which commonly trigger migraine, are a potential link.

In particular, migraine history appeared to reduce the risk of the most common subtypes of breast cancer: those that are estrogen-receptor and/or progesterone-receptor positive. Such tumors have estrogen and/or progesterone receptors, or docking sites, on the surface of their cells, which makes them more responsive to hormone-blocking drugs than tumors that lack such receptors.

The biological mechanism behind the association between migraines and breast cancer is not fully known, but Li and colleagues suspect that it has to do with fluctuations in levels of circulating hormones.

About My Dad

I’m finally ready to tell you about my dad, Lee Smyres. He was 65 when he died, but everyone said he looked 10 years younger. He grew up on a farm in Kansas. Even though he was a practicing CPA, he was on the farm at heart.

He was loving and kind. He always saw the good in people, often to the point of not seeing anyone’s faults. He was always ready to help anyone. He’d give the shirt off his back, and then some, to anyone. I know people tend to exaggerate this sort of thing when someone dies. In his case it’s true.

He wore glasses like the ones in this picture my entire life; up until a few years ago when his optician couldn’t replace the frames.

He loved sweets. Candy, cookies, cake — it didn’t matter. He often had chocolate in the corners of his mouth. One year he ate a five pound box of candy between Christmas and New Year’s. Really.

When I cooked or baked, he cleaned up the kitchen. If I burned the cookies (which was often), he’d patiently stand at the sink, scraping the black off the bottom of every cookie. I’m sure it was as much about making me feel better as it was about eating the cookie.

He worked hard. Hart’s and my first house in Phoenix was built on the road of old farmland. My dad came over with a pick axe and broke up the hard soil. He was 57 at the time. That’s just one example of many, though. He was always at work on many projects simultaneously.

He was devoted to his church, serving on countless committees, volunteering for whatever needed to be done, cooking huge meals along with my mom, singing in the choir. If he wasn’t at home or work, he was doing at the church.

He loved to watch sports. He’d sit in the corner of the L-shaped sofa. His legs stretched out on one end and a pile of newspapers on the other side. He was so laid back that my sister’s friends thought he was on drugs.

He was always forgetting things, often driving away with his coffee cup or cell phone on his truck’s bumper.

My parents taught the three-year-old Sunday School class for almost 20 years. He spent many Saturday nights in front of the TV, cutting out parts of craft projects.

He loved to exercise. When I was young, his obsession was the NordicTrack. The Bowflex was the miracle exercise machine for about the last 10 years. He thought the Bowflex could do anything. All spring, he talked about getting back on the Bowflex, knowing he would feel better if he could just build up his muscles again.

He was proud of me and thought I could do anything. He got it in his head that I was going to write a book. When I was with him at the hospital in July, he asked several times how my book was coming. (I’m now starting to work on a novel.)

I miss him. It hurts more than I can possibly describe. But as far as grief goes, I have it pretty good. After he started getting sick two years ago, I’d sit next to him on the couch when I’d visit. He’d put his arm around me and tell me how much he loved me.

I’m the only person who could out-stubborn him and we butted heads a lot. But I know he forgave me for anything I’ve done to hurt him. I got to spend a lot of time with him in the last couple years and we laughed much of that time. I don’t have to wrestle with regret or what ifs. I just have to learn to live without him.

When he got out of the hospital he wanted three things. To volunteer at the church, sing in the choir again, and get a new truck. He only wanted more of what he already had. What a beautiful testament to how he lived his life.

Guilt: How Do Family & Friends Really Feel About Sick Loved Ones?

We feel guilty because our partners, parents, kids or friends take care of us when we’re sick. Not only that, they have to pick up the slack of the of chores, errands and responsibilities that we couldn’t take care of.

We feel guilty because we call in sick to work, cancel plans with friends, sleep too much, tell everyone around us to be quiet, have dust bunnies under our beds and in the corners and even in the middle of the dining room table.

We feel guilty because we don’t go to our kids’ soccer games, return phone calls, stop to chat with neighbors, enjoy the sunshine/snow/rain, take the dog for a walk, cook dinner.

I wrote that last September and was overwhelmed by the responses from people who also feel guilty for letting friends, families and coworkers down. Lots of us obsess about this, but have you ever asked them if they truly feel let down? I haven’t.

The teacher of my meditation class told stories of previous class members who were wracked with guilt and worried that their families and friends were disappointed in them. Actually asking the families and friends revealed an entirely different truth: They did not feel let down, but were sad to see their loved ones suffering. They all felt helpless and wished they could do more for the person with illness.

So the guilt is on both sides. If only we could figure out how to meet each other in the middle. Have you asked your loved ones what your illness is like for them? Let us know in a comment on this post or on the online support group and forum.

Classic Post: Assessing How Much Your Headaches or Migraines Affect Your Quality of Life

See a doctor for headaches and you’ll likely be asked to take the MIDAS or HIT tests to assess how your migraines or headaches affect your quality of life. You may find your results even more helpful than your doctor does.

Assessing Your Quality of Life
The Daily Headache
May 6, 2006

Whether you have them every day or every three months, headaches definitely affect your quality of life. MIDAS and HIT are two questionnaires to assess the extent of the impact.

Before I recognized how seriously I was affected, a doctor gave me the MIDAS test. The highest score on the test, which indicates severe disability, is 21+. My score was above 100. Needless to say, the results floored me.

This was what it took to see just how bad my headaches were. In the ensuing months, and years, I would recite MIDAS every time I questioned the realness of my illness. Every time I blamed myself, I repeated my mantra. This made a huge difference in how I perceived and dealt with my headaches.

If you question how real your headaches are, these tests are invaluable. They can also help you assess your pain from one time period to the next.

In addition, you can show the results to people who are close to you, but don’t really accept what you’re going through. As they remember the last one to three months, the pieces may slowly fall into place.

Trip to Ikea Without a Meltdown or Migraine!

Fluorescent lights, new furniture smells, swarms of shoppers wandering without regard to others, groups enraptured by the store’s wonders and standing in the walkway, the inability to get through the store without walking the predefined path. The joys of Ikea. Despite these obstacles, I like the place.

It’s just that I have a meltdown nearly every time I shop at Ikea. The plethora of migraine triggers and my inability to regulate time or make decisions while I’m there add to the aforementioned obstacles.

I strategize before each Ikea excursion. I need:

  • To eat enough ahead of time to sustain me
  • Caffeine, but not too much
  • A large, full water bottle
  • Sunglasses
  • To go when the store opens
  • Hart, to keep me on track (although this often backfires as he is mesmerized by the possibilities)

I usually don’t follow my guidelines. This was no exception. I’d eaten, but was hungry by the time I parked. I ordered three shots in my latte instead of the usual two. My large water bottle was dirty, so I had to settle for the 14 ouncer. The sunglasses spent more time on top of my head than on my face. I arrived an hour after the store opened. Hart was at work.

I kind of stuck with the plan and it seems to have worked. No shaking, fuming or tears. No migraine. I did however, buy more curtains than I have windows to cover. The kicker is that I ran an hour of errands afterward, drove the 30 minutes home and rested for another 30; then I wrote for two hours before picking Hart up.

The day after wasn’t even too bad. My head was bad in the morning, but no other symptoms were present. I met Hart for lunch and ran some errands. I felt icky and headachy in the afternoon, so I rested for a bit between doing things around the house.

It was a big accomplishment. I feel like I can tackle the trip to return the extra curtains. If I adhere to my strategy even better, I might achieve a greater level of accomplishment.

Health.com: New Headache & Chronic Pain Resource

Health.com, a new website in the vein of WebMD, offers comprehensive resources on headache and chronic pain. Resources include original articles as well as recommendations for other sites. The Daily Headache is featured as one of the best sites for headache support and I was interviewed for a story on sex and chronic pain.