Sunday Thoughts on Living with Migraine: Time to Play

Sunday-Thoughts-VioletsGood morning to my extended Migraine and Headache family. I hope last week was as kind to you as possible.

Last week, I learned a valuable lesson from Binx, the cat who owns us. Binx is a young cat, just a year old, so there's still a lot of kitten in him and his behavior.

I believe very firmly that bringing a pet into our home carries the responsibility to do everything possible to see to it that he's healthy and happy. Binx seems to firmly believe that it's his responsibility to follow me everywhere I go when I'm home. It appears that I've become a piece of cat furniture and one of his favorite toys.

Binx500bA few days ago, I went upstairs from my office to get a glass of tea. Binx followed me and was running in circles around me. When I walked down the hall to our bedroom, he ran ahead of me and jumped up on our bed, where be began attacking imaginary things under the blankets. 

Obviously, Binx was in the mood to play. I sat down on the bed, put my hand under the blanket, and let him stalk and pounce on it for a while. Then, he bopped me on the nose with his paw and tore off running down the hall. I did what I was supposed to do at that point, and followed him. As I walked out of the hall and into the dining room, a black flash came out of hiding and wrapped all four paws around my ankle.

After playing with Binx for a good half hour, I went back to my desk. I'd been having trouble with an article I was writing, but suddenly, the rest of it came easily. 

What hit me is that I've been so busy lately that I've not only been neglecting Binx, I've been neglecting myself too. We all need "play time," time away from work and the concerns of daily life. So, that's the lesson Binx taught me, and it's amazing how much it's helped me. 

Do YOU take time to play and relax? Remember that when we're stressed or not taking care of ourselves, we're more susceptible to our Migraine triggers. Take a bit of time to play, and have a great day!

Live well,

 because a migraine is NOT "just a headache"



 drawing on our inner Ninja to live a full life
Visit Migraine.Ninja

Sunday Thoughts on Living with Migraine: Out of My Head

Sunday-Thoughts-VioletsGood morning, and happy Sunday to my extended Migraine and Headache family!

A few years ago, I met two remarkable women, Jacki Ochs and Susanna Styron. They're award-winning filmmakers, and they were at our annual Headache on the Hill Headache and Migraine advocacy event in Washington, D.C. 

The reason they were at Headache on the Hill was the new documentary film they were working on, Out of My Head. 

To explain the film, I borrow their words from The Migraine Project web site:

"Migraine is a devastating but fascinating neurological disease with a compelling story to tell. Alice in Wonderland, Vincent Van Gogh, Sigmund Freud and Saint Hildegard von Bingen all figure into its colorful history.

Our film looks at the entertaining details, and the big questions too — the source and management of illness, the economic cost of human disability, the nature of pain and suffering — while shining a spotlight on the frontiers of neuroscience and the exploration of the brain.

Most importantly, you will hear courageous and wondrous stories directly from migraineurs."

I recently saw the trailer for the film, and it's magnificent. But, don't take my word for it. Watch the trailer yourself:

Out of My Head will debut next month in Vancouver at the International Headache Congress, and I'm excited that I'll be there for its first screening. Plans are underway for more screenings. Keep an eye on The Migraine Project web site for scheduled screenings. You can also find them on Facebook.

Live well,

 because a migraine is NOT "just a headache"



 drawing on our inner Ninja to live a full life
Visit Migraine.Ninja

Sunday Thoughts on Living with Migraine: Types of Migraine

TulipThoughtsGood afternoon to my extended Migraine and Headache family. I hope the day is being as kind as possible to you and your head. 

Migraine is a complex neurological disease. As you probably already know there are several types of Migraine, and getting a full and accurate diagnosis is critical to Migraine treatment and management. In the various areas of medicine, it's common for professional organizations to work together to define classification systems for diagnosis. In "headache medicine," the gold standard for diagnosing and classifying Migraine and other headache disorders is the International Headache Society's International Classification of Headache Disorders, 3rd Edition (ICHD-3).

TypesOfMigraineI've been seeing a lot of online discussions with people talking about what type of Migraines they have. Unfortunately, all too many of these discussions include types of Migraine that aren't the "standard" diagnoses from ICHD-3. This can happen when doctors aren't experienced with treating Migraine. It can also happen when people have been reading inaccurate online content. 

In any case, I thought it would be helpful to provide you with a list of types of Migraine from ICHD-3:

1.1 Migraine without aura

1.2 Migraine with aura

1.2.1 Migraine with typical aura Typical aura with headache Typical aura without headache

1.2.2 Migraine with brainstem aura

1.2.3 Hemiplegic migraine Familial hemiplegic migraine (FHM) Familial hemiplegic migraine type 1 Familial hemiplegic migraine type 2 Familial hemiplegic migraine type 3 Familial hemiplegic migraine, other loci Sporadic hemiplegic migraine

1.2.4 Retinal migraine

1.3 Chronic migraine

1.4 Complications of migraine

1.4.1 Status migrainosus

1.4.2 Persistent aura without infarction

1.4.3 Migrainous infarction

1.4.4 Migraine aura-triggered seizure

1.5 Probable migraine

1.5.1 Probable migraine without aura

1.5.2 Probable migraine with aura

1.6 Episodic syndromes that may be associated with migraine

1.6.1 Recurrent gastrointestinal disturbance Cyclical vomiting syndrome Abdominal migraine

1.6.2 Benign paroxysmal vertigo

1.6.3 Benign paroxysmal torticollis

A1.6.5 Vestiblular migraine

If your diagnosis is simply "Migraine" or "chronic Migraine" it's an incomplete diagnosis. Many of us have more than one type of Migraine. For example, my diagnoses are chronic Migraine, Migraine with aura, and Migraine without aura. What's your diagnosis? If it's an incomplete diagnosis, or if it's a type of Migraine that's not included in the list above, a conversation with your doctor is in order. 

Live well,

 because a migraine is NOT "just a headache"



 drawing on our inner Ninja to live a full life
Visit Migraine.Ninja

Sunday Thoughts on Living with Migraine: Expressing Pain

TulipThoughtsGood morning to my extended Migraine and Headache family! I hope all of you are doing as well as possible.

In a more perfect world, everyone would be kind and compassionate, and they'd understand people living with debilitating diseases. The sad fact, however, is that we don't inhabit such a world. We also live in a time when, thanks to examples set by some of our leaders, it seems to be acceptable to criticize people, call people names, and be downright nasty. 

Since we have to live in this world, it would serve us well to find ways to educate others about Migraine disease, it's impact, and us - the people who live with Migraine.

I've written about various ways to raise awareness and advocate for ourselves. Last week, I observed some discussions about Migraine that gave me a bit of insight into something we may be doing that weakens our efforts and may cause people to take us less seriously. 

What I'm referring to is how we sometimes talk about our pain levels and how ill we feel. Let me offer you a few examples taken from recent online discussions:

  • "I've had a 12/10 Migraine for three days now."
  • "My head is going to explode, literally."
  • "The nurse in the ER rolled her eyes when I told her my Migraine was at least a 13."
  • "My pain is at a 10, but this aura is totally off the scale; I can't see anything."

I totally understand that the pain and other Migraine symptoms can push us to the edge. But statements such as those above contain huge issues. Let's look at each statement:

  • "I've had a 12/10 Migraine for three days now."
    Most people use a scale of zero to 10 to scale pain, with 10 being the worst pain imaginable. It doesn't do any good to say we're beyond 10. If we're talking with a doctor, he's asking us to scale our pain so he can better decide to help us. We're not helping him help us when we exceed 10. If we're talking with other people online for suggestions and support, saying were at 12 out of 10, many people are going to dismiss us, thinking that nobody could be online if they were in that much pain.
  • "My head is going to explode, literally."
    Seriously? Nobody's head is going to "literally explode" from a Migraine. Don't shoot the messenger here, but statements such as that one are a good way to get branded as a "drama queen." This type of statement leads to less understanding, not more.
  • "The nurse in the ER rolled her eyes when I told her my Migraine was at least a 13."
    Well, the nurse shouldn't have rolled her eyes, but again, that's a result of "exaggerating" and going beyond the limit of the pain scale. 
  • "My pain is at a 10, but this aura is totally off the scale; I can't see anything."
    I didn't see this one myself. A friend related it to me, and she was wondering how the person could see to post the long post this was taken from if she had a Migraine aura so bad that she "couldn't see anything."

I realize this is a sensitive topic for some of us, but I'm asking you to give it some consideration and not shoot the messenger here. When we're in a lot of pain and/or experiencing other extreme symptoms, it can seem natural to exaggerate a bit for effect. But, such exaggerations shine the wrong light on Migraine disease. Such statements are unlikely to make other people want to understand better. They're more likely to elicit the response someone got from the ER nurse, eye rolling. 

When we're seeking medical care, it's important to be as accurate as possible so we can help the doctors and others help us. 

There's another potential negative impact of such statements. Instead of reducing the social stigma associated with Migraine, they're more likely to reinforce and perhaps even worsen that stigma.

Let's find ways to express our pain that put people on our side, wanting to learn more, wanting to help us. Many people don't realize that Migraine is a genetic neurological disease... that we can have a Migraine every day... that sometimes the nausea, light sensitivity, and other symptoms can be so severe that they're incapacitating even without the headache. Here's something else many people don't realize - even if our pain level is low or moderate, perhaps a four or five, having that pain day after day wears on us. 

Please give this issue some thought. It truly is important.

Live well,

 because a migraine is NOT "just a headache"



 drawing on our inner Ninja to live a full life
Visit Migraine.Ninja

Groundbreaking Chronic Migraine Study Enrolling Now

MOTS200All of us who struggle with Migraine disease know that there's an enormous need for more research into Migraine. Yes, we need more research to find new and better treatments, but there are other types of research we need also. We need more research into the epidemiology and pathophysiology of Migraine, and we need research to answer specific questions about treating Migraine.

The good news is that there's a trial currently enrolling to answer one of the specific questions about treating Migraine. The trial is the Medication Overuse Treatment Strategy (MOTS) Trial. It's designed to answer questions that are very important to people with chronic Migraine. One of the biggest challenges to all of us with chronic Migraine is that using acute medications more than two or three days a week can very easily lead us to another problem, medication overuse headache (MOH).

Before I tell you more about this important study, let's discuss MOH a bit. First, I realize that the name "medication overuse headache" is a problem for some people. Let me assure you that it's just a name. Nobody associated with the study is passing judgement or blaming anyone who finds themselves in an MOH situation.

For anyone who isn't familiar with what MOH is or what can cause it, here's more info. The International Headache Society has set diagnostic and classification criteria for MOH that are quite complete in listing which medications can cause MOH in their International Classification of Headache Disorders, 3rd edition (ICHD-3). For a diagnosis of medication overuse headache, a pateint must experience at least 15 days of headache per month, and meet this criteria:

8.2 Medication-overuse headache (MOH)

8.2.1 Ergotamine-overuse headache Overuse defined as ergotamine intake on 10 or more days/month on a regular basis for more than 3 months.

8.2.2 Triptan-overuse headache
Overuse defined as triptan intake (any formulation) on 10 or more days/month on a regular basis for more than 3 months.

8.2.3 Analgesic-overuse headache
Overuse defined as intake of simple analgesics on 15 or more days/month on a regular basis for more than 3 months.

  • Paracetamol (acetaminophen)-overuse headache Regular intake of paracetamol on 15 days per month for more than 3 months.
  • Acetylsalicylic acid-overuse headache Regular intake of acetylsalicylic acid on 15 days per month for more than 3 months.
  • Other non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID)-overuse headache
    Regular intake of one or more NSAIDs other than acetylsalicylic acid on 15 days per month for more than 3 months.

8.2.4 Opioid-overuse headache Overuse defined as intake of opioids on 10 or more days/month on a regular basis for more than 3 months.** Comment:** Studies show that patients overusing opioids have the highest relapse rate after withdrawal treatment.

8.2.5 Combination analgesic-overuse headache Overuse defined as intake of simple analgesic medications on 10 or more days/month on a regular basis for more than 3 months.** Note:** The term combination-analgesic is used specifically for formulations combining drugs of two or more classes, each with analgesic effect or acting as adjuvants.

8.2.6 Medication-overuse headache attributed to multiple drug classes not individually overused
Regular intake of any combination of ergotamine, triptans, simple analgesics, NSAIDs and/or opioids on a total of 10 days per month for more than 3 months without overuse of any single drug or drug class alone.

As you can see, any acute medication (medication used to treat a Migraine or headache when it occurs) can, if overused, cause MOH. Even alternating the types of acute medications leaves us vulnerable to MOH (see 8.2.6 above). 

More about the study:

This video by Dr. David Dodick, one of the primary investigators of the MOTS trial is a good introduction to the study:

The aim of this study is to compare two real-world strategies for treating patients who have chronic migraine with medication overuse, each with evidence for effectiveness:

  • Transition from the overused acute medication used during migraine attacks to different acute medication (prescribed with parameters to avoid medication overuse) with optimized preventive treatment;
  • Optimized preventive treatment without transition from the overused acute medication.

Although both of these treatment strategies are commonly used, there's insufficient evidence to know if one of these methods is superior to the other or if they provide similar outcomes. 

Patients participating in the study will be randomly assigned to one of two treatment arms matching the two strategies. It's very important to understand that patients who are randomized into the transition arm, will NOT be left without acute treatments. The treatments causing medication overuse will be discontinued, BUT other treatments will be prescribed to take their place.

There are no experimental treatments being used in this study. Participants must be patients at one of the study locations or become patients at one of them so they get consistent treatment from their own physician during the study. Centers participating in the study include Migraine and headache centers, general neurology practices, and family medicine practices. Centers participating in this study include:


  • Northern Arizona Healthcare Medical Group; Flagstaff, Arizona
  • Mayo Clinic in Arizona Headache Center; Phoenix, Arizona
  • Mayo Clinic in Arizona Neurology Center; Phoenix, Arizona
  • Pinnacle Internal Medicine and Headache Center; Phoenix, Arizona
  • Mayo Clinic Thunderbird; Scottsdale, Arizona


  • Orange County Migraine and Headache Center; Irvine, California
  • Cedars-Sinai Medical Center; Los Angeles, California


  • University of Colorado Denver Colorado Headache Center; Aurora, Colorado
  • University of Colorado Denver Primary Center; Denver, Colorado


  • Mayo Clinic Florida Headache Center; Jacksonville, Florida


  • Brigham Women's Hospital Headache Clinic; Boston, Massachusetts
  • Brigham Women's Hospital Neurology Clinic; Boston, Massachusetts


  • Mayo Clinic Headache Center; Rochester, Minnesota

New York

  • DENT Neurologic Institute Amherst, New York


  • University of Cincinnati Neurology; Cincinnati, Ohio
  • University of Cincinnati Primary; Cincinnati, Ohio
  • University of Cincinnati Headache Center; Dayton, Ohio
  • Toledo Clinic General Neurology; Toledo, Ohio


  • Thomas Jefferson University Hospital Headache Center; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
  • Preferred Headache Center; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania


  • University of Utah Primary Care; Salt Lake City, Utah
  • University of Utah General Neurology; Salt Lake City, Utah
  • University of Utah Headache Center; Salt Lake City, Utah


  • Medical College of Wisconsin; Milwaukee, Wisconsin

The primary investigators for the MOTS trial are Dr. Todd Schwedt and Dr. David Dodick, both at the Mayo Clinic Headache Center in Arizona. I'm honored to be their co-investigator for this trial, my first venture into research. The study is funded by the Patient Centered Outcomes Research Institute (PCORI).

If you have chronic Migraine and medication overuse, I hope you'll consider being part of this important study. It's an opportunity to address your Migraine treatment AND to help answer this important question that so many of us face.

For more information:

  • Visit the MOTS Trial web site.
  • Check out the MOTS Trial Facebook page.
  • Follow @MOTSTrial on Twitter.
  • Click the "Email Me" button to the right or at the bottom of this page, depending on how you're viewing this post, to send me an email.

Live well,

 because a migraine is NOT "just a headache"



 drawing on our inner Ninja to live a full life
Visit Migraine.Ninja

Sunday Thoughts on Living with Migraine: Say Migraine, Not Headache

TulipThoughtsGood afternoon and happy Sunday to my extended Migraine and Headache family!

We're always looking for ways to get people to understand Migraine disease and it's impact on us. Myths and misconceptions still abound AND continue to feed the social stigma associated with Migraine.

In the last few weeks, I've had occasion to speak with people who don't have Migraine themselves, but care about the Migraine patient population. In a meeting with about 40 people present, one asked me how we can combat the stigma. It was a moment during which I'd know that question was going to be asked so I'd have had an answer prepared. But I didn't have advance warning, so I shared the first thing that came to mind...

We can help reduce the stigma by removing the phrase, "Migraine headache" from our vocabulary.


Here's my reasoning:

  • One of the most prevalent and damaging misconceptions about a Migraine is that it's "just a headache." When a great many people hear the phrase, "Migraine headache," they don't truly hear the "Migraine" part. All they hear is, "headache," so they think of a "simple" headache that should respond to Tylenol, Advil, or some other over-the-counter remedy. They're drawing on their own experience, so they're thinking of the mild tension-type headache that about 85% of the population experiences at some time during their lives. 
  • Migraine attacks can and do occur with no headache. When that happens, they're described as "acephalgic" or "silent" Migraines
  • When headache does occur during a Migraine attack, it's only one symptom of the attack.
  • The symptom of headache alone is insufficient for a diagnosis of Migraine. There must be accompanying symptoms.

It's easy to forget how much power words can have, but once we think about it, we can begin to harness that power and use it to our advantage in awareness and advocacy efforts. 

I hope you'll join me in this simple effort that can have enormous impact. When talking about an individual Migraine episode, let's say "Migraine attack." When talking about the condition, let's say "Migraine disease" to help people realize that Migraine is indeed a genetic neurological disease. Once we do this for a while, it becomes habit, and we do it without even thinking about it.

Live well,

 because a migraine is NOT "just a headache"



 drawing on our inner Ninja to live a full life
Visit Migraine.Ninja

Sunday Thoughts on Living with Migraine: After Awareness Month

TulipThoughtsGood afternoon, and happy Sunday to my extended Migraine and Headache Family!

Migraine and Headache Awareness Month (MHAM) was in June, but the need to raise awareness never ends. Lack of awareness in the general public results in:

  • the perpetuation of myths and misconceptions about Migraine, Cluster Headaches, and other Headache disorders
  • the continuation of the social stigma associated with Headache disorders
  • discomfort and reduced quality of life for people who have Headache disorders

Advocacy-All-Year-300So it's important that we strive to raise awareness all the time, not just during Migraine and Headache Awareness Month.

Since you're reading this, it's a given that you spend some time online. Social media outlets such as Facebook and Twitter are magnificent ways to share information and raise awareness! They're easy to use, and quite a bit can be accomplished with minimal effort. That makes them great tools for those of us whose time and energy are limited by chronic Headache disorders.

One easy way to keep track of awareness and advocacy opportunities is to keep an eye on my Facebook page. I'm constantly posting links to educational articles about Migraine and other Headache disorders, Migraine and Headache treatments, and events such as Headache on the Hill and Migraine and Headache Awareness Month. Simply sharing these links on your Facebook page is a quick and simple way to help raise awareness.

If you're looking for the most recent information about Migraine and other Headache disorders and their treatments as well as support and advocacy and awareness info, check out our HealthCentral Migraine Management group on Facebook.

A don't-miss source of information and support is the American Migraine Foundation's Move Against Migraine campaign. You can check it out on the American Migraine Foundation web site or through the widget below.

There are many ways to raise awareness year-round. I've barely scratched the surface here. If you have ways to raise awareness that you'd like to share, please leave a comment, and tell us about them. 

Live well,

 because a migraine is NOT "just a headache"



 drawing on our inner Ninja to live a full life
Visit Migraine.Ninja

Sunday Thoughts on Living with Migraine: Balance and Harmony

SundayThoughtsGood morning, and happy Sunday to my extended Migraine and Headache family!

The past week gave me much to think about as I spent time in several Migraine groups on Facebook. There was so very much going on, including:

  • Wonderfully constructive conversations about diagnoses, treatments, and awareness.
  • Great questions asked, then answered by community members who truly care about helping each other.
  • The sharing of links to some truly splendid articles and blog posts.

Unfortunately, there was also a downside to some of the activity, including:

  • A heart-wrenching post from a young man who has lived a long time with chronic Migraine, is losing hope, and is talking about giving up.
  • Some genuinely nasty comments from people who disagreed with what someone else had said, but seemed unable to be civil about it.

These last two items frustrated me for two main reasons:

  1. Hope is our best tool for living with Migraine and other headache disorders. It gives us the strength we need when our treatments aren't working, and the burden of our disease/disorder seems especially heavy. We must cling to that hope and share it with others. There are some ground-breaking treatments in development for Migraine and Cluster Headaches. With help so close, this is not the time to lose hope or give up.
  2. I simply don't understand the nastiness. It hurts not only those on the receiving end, but those being nasty. When someone is needlessly nasty toward others, I can't help but think that they're deeply unhappy people. 

It all comes down to balance and harmony...

We will always have both joy and sadness, pain and relief, hope and despair. That's a basic fact of live we can't change. What matters is how we deal with sadness, pain, and despair. And it matters a great deal how we treat other people along the way. Being nasty is a good way to end up isolated and alone. 

We need to seek balance and harmony. If there are times when we're in pain or despair, we need to exercise caution in how we interact with others. If we're interacting in writing, such as participating in Facebook groups, we need to reread what we've written before posting. If it's unkind, edit it, or just don't post until we feel better. During such times, it's also perfectly fine to post, explaining how we're feeling, and get support from others.

I'm an administrator or moderator for several Facebook groups for people with Migraine and other Headache disorders, and it's difficult. Last week, at the same time that I was trying to reach out to someone in real trouble, I was also dealing with people who were being so nasty to other people that I wanted to reach right through my computer monitor and smack them.

To those of you who manage to stay kind and helpful when you're in pain yourself, bless you! To those of you who post nasty comments to others, please stop and think. You're hurting both others AND yourself. Please look for balance and harmony.


Live well,

 because a migraine is NOT "just a headache"



 drawing on our inner Ninja to live a full life
Visit Migraine.Ninja