Things I learned last week

I have been having headaches 4 or 5 times a week for the last 6 weeks.  Also, I’ve had a decrease in cognitive function.   The headaches at least, did not seem to be related to my pills.  I decided (with much nudging from my psychiatrist) to see the doctor about this.  In the process, I learned the following:

  1. The nurse who draws blood at the student care center knows me on sight.  I found this a tad disconcerting but then I realized that I have been going there for umpteen billion years now.
  2. Also, I’m “the one with good veins.”  See above.
  3. Climbing into a ginormous magnet that seemingly has an interior diameter of about 1 foot is no problem at all if you have taken 2 ativan 30 minutes beforehand.
  4. If you’re going to climb into a ginormous magnet, it is a good idea to take your ID out of your back pocket.  Otherwise, when you go back to your lab building to get your backpack, you will find the card reader does not open the door for you anymore.
  5. If I take 2 ativan, I will sleep for 8 hours straight.  Furthermore, I can then wake up for 1 hour and then sleep another 6 hours.
  6. I have abnormally strong reflexes, particularly in my knees.
  7. Looking at pictures of my brain is super cool!  Everyone should get to see a picture of their own brain.
  8. I don’t have MS (it never occurred to me to be worried about MS until every doctor I encountered mentioned it–then I was scared to death!).
  9. There is nothing structurally wrong with my brain.  (Whew!)

Verdict:  I have migraines.  I would put this in the list of things I learned but I knew that I had migraines prior to going through all of these tests.  True, I had never had them so frequently before, but still, it felt a little anticlimactic.  I had the urge to say, “No shit, Sherlock.  Tell me something I don’t know,”  but I refrained.  I know it’s important to rule out anything serious, but I was really hoping I would get a little more out of it than, “You have migraines.  Here’s a prescription.”*  It feels a lot like when I went to get a sleep study done because I wake up so frequently during the night.  I spent the night in the sleep clinic with 20-odd electrodes stuck to my head and face, my head and face wrapped up in yards and yards of gauze to keep the electrodes on, electrodes on my legs, a strap around my chest, and–my personal favorite–tiny copper electrodes up my nose.  And they woke me up at 5AM to send me home.  Their big conclusion?  “You wake up a lot while you sleep.”  NO!  You don’t say!

Anyhoo, I now have another pill to add to my medicine cabinet.  But, because this drug is known to make people drowsy, I’m no longer taking my sleeping med so there’s no net gain or loss of pills.

P.S.  I realize the headaches are probably mostly due to  stress.

*I know, I know, they don’t know much about what causes migraines and it’s not the doctor’s fault, yadda, yadda, yadda.  That doesn’t mean I can’t be frustrated about spending all that time and energy and money on tests and doctors’ visits only to essentially be back at square one. Although I did get to see pictures of my brain so I guess that counts for something.

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12 thoughts on “Things I learned last week

  1. That’s really standard procedure — in fact, if you’ve had migraines for some time, I’m surprised they only sent you now for an MRI. I’ve probably had at least 5 or 6 since I was officially diagnosed with migraines when I was 11 or 12.

    It’s always easy for me to determine a migraine from any other form of headache (sinus, tension, cluster, etc)… the migraine means non-stop, uncontrollable vomiting for 12-36 hours. Woo.

  2. i had a particularly bad spring 3 years ago where i had near constant migraines for a few weeks and they kept mentioning topomax as a daily preventative. i lucked out and was able to take a couple days off, reset my schedule and medicate with imitrex (doesn’t work anymore for me though) and a great pain killer. then life was back to roses and lab work. but i keep magnesium supplements on hand and take them religiously when the weather changes (spring thunderstorms kill me) and that helps a lot.

    good luck and hopefully you can figure out how to reduce yours without having to stay on meds. 🙂

  3. I used to really bad tension headaches a couple times per week (at least) – and then my doctor prescribed massages. Ah, yes! It actually has helped a lot! I still get them, but now maybe about once a month.

    That sleep study sounds absolutely horrendous :S

  4. I can totally relate, I’ve had migraines for the last 10 years. Last fall I suddenly had them all the time, as in every day for 6-8 weeks. I went to an ophthalmologist, had an mri, and basically learned i’m one of those people that have one eye slightly further forward than the other for no reason. luckily that was all they found (ie no tumors, which is what i was having nightmares about). now i take amitryptaline (50mg) to “prevent” them. it seems that every time i start a new drug it works great for a month or so and then i’m back where i started. beware of topomax, besides the side effects my doctor warned me about when i tried it a couple of years ago (sleepiness, stupidness), i also got a severe case of bronchitis that kept me on my couch for more than 2 weeks, unbelievable mood swings, lost a lot of weight, and lost a bunch of hair. i didn’t even know those last 3 were from the topomax until i decided to stop taking it because it wasn’t working any more. turns out you can take a biotin supplement to prevent hair loss, wish my doctor had told me about that! two years later i still have much thinner hair on the top of my head than on the bottom. just wanted to warn anyone with migraines taking, or thinking about taking, topamx. no one warned me.

    good luck dealing with your migraines, it’s a constant struggle but there are things out there that work.

    • Holy cats, K! I’ve got enough problems without those kinds of side effects. They gave me some samples of Topomax, but since 800mg ibuprofen works well for most of my headaches, I think I’m going to stick to that.

  5. Just thought I’d chime back in — I’ve been on (and back off, and back on) Topamax for over a year now, and while yes, the side effects are difficult to say the least, I have been on over half a dozen different medications, and it works head and shoulders better than anything else for me. And to be able to go from a migraine every week (mine last 36-72 hours of constant vomiting, meaning that I cannot leave the bathroom for 2-3 straight days… I very nearly had to drop out of my Ph.D. program because of it), down to one migraine every 3-4 months… needless to say, Topamax has really been practically miraculous, even with the memory loss, mood swings, and hair loss. I’ll take some baldness ANY day over spending nearly half my life lying on a bathroom floor, unemployable as a result.

  6. Not sure why it changed my username all of a sudden, but it won’t let me change it back — this is the same person from the first comment, aka Disgruntled Julie.

  7. i’ve been taking topamax everyday for a year, after getting regular migraines since i was a kid (so for like 15 years)…some of the side effects were *weird* — i had the tingling extremities and developed a distaste for carbonated beverages (it is an carbonic anhydrase inhibitor i believe, so that makes sense to me) as well as a craving for bananas, but on the other hand, i lost 15 lbs that i didn’t need with no effort — and i didn’t have any of the scary side effects i’ve heard about or read here. and while a low grade migraine almost every morning was my ‘normal,’ for a long long time (and then the insurance companies started only letting us have 4 imitrex per copay), topamax has made it so my new ‘normal’ is no headache. well, unless i trigger it with bad sleep habits or alcohol.

    just wanted to let you know my experience too, along with julieulie, in case you need to try something besides the ibuprofen. there’s definitely other stuff too besides the topamax, and everyone has different experiences, but yeah, it doesn’t have to be totally horrible. hope your head feels better.

  8. oh yeah, speaking of memory loss from topamax, the one thing i had in that area, was a little aphasia, where i was always having trouble thinking of *one* particular word in a sentence. it was really frustrating. i felt like i was always playing ‘Taboo’ with people, trying to get them to guess the word i couldn’t think of by defining it for them. But, as I forgot to mention about the other side effects too, except for the weight loss, this went away with the tingling and the banana craving….

  9. I totally agree that topamax and other drugs are great for some people. It was great for me at first as well. I just want to make sure people know exactly what the possible side effects are, especially since some can be pretty horrible. When I first started it I knew about the aphasia, the tingling, the fatigue, and the inability to think quickly that can (and did) come with topamax. However, even after reading the printout that came from the pharmacy and talking to my doctor, I had no idea that the moodiness, the weight loss, and the increased risk of lung infections (among other things) were possibilities. I only found out about those side effects after I had been taking it for 8 months and was experiencing some of them, and only after stumbling across a topamax forum on the interwebs. Since then I’ve been more proactive about reading up on any new drugs I’m given, but I used to go no further than what my doctor and the CVS printout said, and I think a lot of people are the the same way. I’m sure in a lot of cases the side effects are worth it because of the severity of the migraines, but in my case they definitely weren’t. I may be more susceptible to odd side effects though, the first time I tried Imitrex my carpet started dancing. I stick to midrin, it may not always work perfectly to stop my migraines, but at least it doesn’t make me hallucinate.

  10. I noticed a drastic increase in migraines since beginning grad school. Many other grad students have said the same. I blame stress. Doesn’t make it less sucky, though, esp when you’re in the middle of an experiment and just have to keep powering through it…

  11. Pingback: Migraine meds « I Love Science, Really

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