Fight Back Against Chronic Migraine

After spending much of her childhood lying in bed, Emilie Davidson Hoyt never dreamed she’d one day found her own company. Yet today she is testament to why you should never give up on finding your path to relief.

Lindsay Bosslett
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migraine, Chronic Migraine
Photograph by Dana Fineman

Missing out, feeling alone: For Emilie Davidson Hoyt, it was a part of life—all because of debilitating headaches that kept her on the sidelines for as long as she can remember. “I’d be in bed crying and hearing my family at the dinner table for Thanksgivings, for my own birthday dinners, for movie nights. I was in bed way too much,” recalls the now 39-year-old Pasadena, CA, resident.

Eventually Emilie’s doctor suspected the headaches were migraines. “He referred me to a neurologist, who confirmed the diagnosis,” she says.

“For a few years, I tried nearly everything, from medications to herbs and acupuncture to biofeedback,” says Emilie, a supporter of the National Headache Foundation for migraine awareness and education, and a recipient of the group’s prestigious Patient Partners and Golden Trumpet awards.

But it wasn’t until doctors realized she was suffering from Chronic Migraine that Emilie had a treatment breakthrough. “I opted for a preventive approach, including injections in my forehead and daily meds.”

It turned out to be just the strategy she needed. “I had to stick with it for a while—relief didn’t happen right away. But I trusted my doctor and kept up with the treatments,” says Emilie, “Now I get migraines only three or four times a year. It’s like a miracle!”

What is Chronic Migraine?
For migraine sufferers like Emilie, life-disrupting symptoms, such as head pain and nausea, last indefinitely. The condition is called Chronic Migraine, and it’s diagnosed when you experience 15 or more headache days a month for at least three months in a row.

It’s far more debilitating than an occasional, or episodic, migraine. “An episodic migraine has a beginning and an end,” says Roger K. Cady, MD, founder and medical director of the Headache Care Center in Springfield, MO. “When it ends, a person’s nervous system returns to normal.” With Chronic Migraine, the nervous system has less time to recover between headaches, so you may never feel completely pain-free.

Who’s at risk for Chronic Migraine?
Anyone who has a family history of Chronic Migraine or suffers from episodic migraine is at risk. And the more frequent your migraines, the more vulnerable you are, since they can cause your nervous system to become more sensitive.

Gender also plays a role, as the condition is more common among women. Being overweight matters, too—having a body mass index of 30 or above means you have five times the risk of Chronic Migraine compared to people of normal weight, according to a National Institute of Aging study. Other factors include depression, anxiety and being overly sensitive to pain.

Finding your path to relief
Conquering Chronic Migraine usually requires a combination of medication and lifestyle changes—as it did for Emilie—such as getting enough shut-eye, limiting caffeine intake to no more than 200 mg (the amount in about 10 oz. of coffee) and monitoring use of pain medications.

Sound like a lot to juggle? Take heart! By working closely with your healthcare provider and having patience, you can find the combination that makes a difference for you.

January 2014