This damn pandemic is magnifying everything that sucks. I know we’re supposed to focus on the Me Time we get and how wonderful it is to be able to spend quality time getting to know those people and hobbies we love, but it’s getting really hard to put a positive spin on any of this now that we are entering our eight month. First however, is the toll it’s taking on our health. In addition to the crippling and lethal effects of COVID-19, the quarantine and pandemic circumstances are amplifying all of our other health issues too. One such ailment on the rise are migraines. According to the migraine-tracking app MigraineBuddy, there has been a 20% increase in migraines during lockdown. And what’s worse, they are lasting longer and are more resistant to our normal treatments. Oh joy.
According to Dawn Buse, Ph.D., Clinical Professor in the Department of Neurology at Albert Einstein College of Medicine and a board member of the American Headache Society, migraine is a chronic illness with episodic attacks that can last anywhere from a few hours to days. Dr. Charisse Litchman, a neurologist specializing in headache medicine and former Assistant Professor of Clinical Neurology at Yale School of Medicine, tells PEOPLE that migraines are three times more common in women than in men, with 17% of women getting migraines as compared to 6% of men. “Women tend to have more severe pain and their headaches last longer,” says Dr. Litchman.
Dr. Litchman tells PEOPLE that since the start of the pandemic, there’s been a significant uptick in both the number of people who are newly experiencing migraines and how often migraines are occurring in those who already suffer from them. (A migraine-tracking app, MigraineBuddy, has seen a 20 percent rise in migraine reports.)
“The reason we are seeing people who have always suffered from migraines experience more migraines is that they are being exposed to more triggers,” says Litchman. “Those experiencing migraines for the first time likely have always had a predisposition to migraines, and they are experiencing [them] for the first time now because they also are exposed to so many new triggers.” Triggers include changes in hormones, excess caffeine, stress (including financial stress), disrupted sleep and meal patterns, plus many potential food triggers.
I *highly* recommend any migraine sufferers click the People link above and read the whole article. Initially I excerpted almost the entire article but needed to crop it for space. There’s a section about how COVID itself exacerbates migraines, basically subjecting those affected to a weeks-long migraine. Most of the article spoke to my migraine situation during the pandemic and somehow it was oddly assuring to have answers. I say oddly because those answers are basically that longer, refractory migraines are my reality until this is over, but at least I know what’s going on. The article said migraine sufferers who are parents are experiencing the triggers of homeschooling and assuming multiple roles in addition to the stress of not being able to remove themselves to deal with their migraines. However, everyone is universally facing the triggers of, “In addition to the health crisis, we are living through economic, political and racial equity and civil rights crises, as well.” I am just emerging from a week of cluster migraines. Saturday and Wednesday nights were so bad, my husband and I discussed taking me to the hospital. I worsened the issue by not managing my medication well because, as the article stated, they weren’t working so I was overlapping treatments. I’ve been blaming menopause and hormones but, although I’m sure that’s a factor, it sounds like the pandemic is to blame.
So what can we do about it? For first time sufferers, diet is extremely important. Avoid chocolate, peanuts, citrus and anything with MSG. Limit alcohol – hydration is your number one defense, drink as much water as you can. Stick to a regular sleep schedule and practice as much self-care as you can, including meditation, stretching (especially your neck) and time out for yourself. All of that is great advice, but if we could practice self-care and uninterrupted sleep schedules, we probably wouldn’t be having such migraine issues. So let me offer some other suggestions. Make sure your home office is ergonomically correct and if you can, update all your eyeglass prescriptions. For bi or trifocals wearers, if you can get a single prescription pair for just computer use, that’s ideal. Make sure to measure exactly how far from your monitor you sit to tell your eye doctor. Keep Excedrin Migraine (the best) or other over the counter migraine medication on hand to manage lesser issues or when symptoms first appear. Dedicate a bag of frozen peas or corn that you wrap in a dishtowel to place at the base of your skull during a migraine. I marked mine with duct tape so no one touches it and it is always there when I need it. Frozen corn and peas will mold the shape of your neck, skull and shoulders better than an ice pack – I cannot emphasize enough how much this helps with pain. My sister in law (who is a doctor) just recommended taking magnesium oxide and B2 as preventatives. I haven’t tried this yet, but she’s never steered me wrong. And step away from your computer, lie on the couch, take any minute you can. I know how hard it is, but it is so, so important right now. As always, any other tidbits my fellow CBitches have would be much appreciated.
Stay safe, my lovelies. I’m here for you if you need me.
Photo credit: Mikael Blomkvist, Ketut Subiyanto from Pexels
I am a chronic migraine sufferer. Before March I would get maybe two or three a week. Now, it’s nearly everyday. I get Botox for migraine, I take a preventative (Ajovy), and my Dr has prescribed some of the new abortives for me (Nurtec, Reyvow). All of these don’t stop the stabbing neck pain which inevitably turns into a migraine. I’m thankful for health insurance that covers all these treatments, because I know of plenty of people who don’t have the access to pharmaceuticals I do. Reyvow and Nurtec are wonderful, by the way, as a replacement for some of the older abortives (Imitrex, Compazine) that don’t work as well, for as long, or come with a host of side effects. The r/migraine sub on Reddit is wonderful, but yeah, every single migraine sufferer I know is having 2x the headaches during Covid. It’s 100% the stress, and considering women are much more likely to get migraines, and women and moms are carrying so much of the home, work, and family load right now, it all adds up.
Adding to my prior comment: like Hecate said, magnesium is super important to nerve conduction, and at higher doses, can help prevent migraines as well. I use Migrelief 2x a day, but you can use any high-absorption magnesium (absorption is the key, as just taking a magnesium supplement will often result in your just excreting it).
Be careful taking magnesium oxide, as it can cause diarrhea. There are other magnesium forms that have less of that effect. I take both magnesium glycinate and magnesium lysinate glycinate, in addition to B2, the only supplements I’ve tried that helped.
Same here. I used to get it maybe once a year. Since March I’ve been getting it everyday. Thanks for the tips
I have NEVER had a migraine until this past Sunday, when I had tracers in my left eye and no other symptoms, and then my health devolved into “can’t peel myself off the couch” status and my head gripped and throbbed in a way that even now astonishes me (last night I gained relief, thank goodness). I still had to go in for a livestream fitness class I teach, and it was the single worst thing I have ever endured. I would rate teaching a fitness class with a migraine as worse than having my esophagus and stomach operated on. Worse than the time my brother accidentally hit me with a baseball at full-speed pitch. I do not know how those who suffer with migraines on the reg handle it. I feel as though my mental health would deteriorate beyond repair. What a thing to have to go through. I count myself lucky that this is my first experience and, though it lasted several days, I appear to be on the mend. For those of you who have to endure this frequently, I wrap my arms around you in this virtual space. What comfort you deserve, and empathy, and love and tender care!
I am a chronic migraine sufferer and have always chalked mine up to hormonal issues. I have had two epic migraines during this pandemic with the last one lasting for 2 weeks. It’s reassuring to know why my migraines seem to be getting worse. This last time it felt as though nothing helped and all I could do was ride out the pain. I also thought mine were getting worse because of menopause. Just another reason to hate this damn pandemic.
I have one right now.
Yeah, mine are usually linked to my cycle, but I get them much more regularly now. They’re not always can’t-get-out-of-bed horrible, but they do kinda ruin the whole day.
I’ve been having a lot of them lately. I think it’s stress, anxiety (over everything, not just current events) and being isolated in my place. Clonazepam and I have become best buds but only at a half a tab at a time. At first I thought they were just bad allergy headaches but as soon as things became blurry, flashing lights and I got off balance = migraine. I’m also going through the change so I don’t get much sleep. I wonder if migraines are part of the change or it’s just everything all together?
They were never this bad before covid. Maybe once every couple of months when I was balancing school and work together with pre-menopause but now…I’d say six or seven a month.
@Leah, they are definitely tied to hormones. My neuro said about 80% of his migraine patients are women in their 40’s, in either peri-menopause or menopause. Anecdotally, he said my situation (age, stage in life, employment, child-reading) and disposition (high strung, ambitious) is pretty typical in his eyes. Every time I see him he lectures me about stress, and how I should try to enlist others to help with the kids and home. Yeah, my husband was laid off in May, my mom has mid-stage Alzheimer’s, I have three kids at home doing virtual schooling, I have chronic pain from the migraines, and I’m working a pretty intense job with deadlines. But sure, I’ll try to limit my stress. 🙄
Thank you so much for this post. I have had two migraines this week after a period of none for months. There was no controlling the first one. These are great tips, which I will implement ASAP.
I’ve had them since I was 6. Of course they are managed by my neurologist for the most part. But one thing we have discussed is when a hospital isn’t available and I’m out of Rx meds, what to do. And he suggested 500mcg of magnesium, Benadryl, and either an ecedrine migraine or stacking Tylenol/600 mg of ibuprofen and drinking a cup of coffee.
I’ve had to do that “cocktail” before and it really does work.
So interesting. What does the Benedryl do?
I had my very first migraine last month. I’ve had a couple ocular migraines in the past with no pain, but this time I had a 36 hour headache that felt like someone driving a railroad spike through my eyeball. I had to call off work. I thought it was just a tension headache or whatever, but my boss convinced me it was more likely a migraine when I described my symptoms. Hoping it was a one off! That was not fun.
I have had migraines since 2003 – I even tried Botox twice in 2010 but it didn’t work (but made my forehead look great). I just went to a neurologist last month to discuss new drugs (which I have never taken after a bad reaction to Imitrex). My stress level has been crazy the past few months and I lost my job Sept 1…. she suggested 400 mg of B2 (which turns your urine bright yellow) and magnesium oxide. The frozen bag of peas was usually the only thing that worked for me. Excedrin’s caffeine gives me jitters, so I can’t take than any longer. I think good hydration can help – I don’t drink enough water. Best wishes to everyone; this has been a really challenging year.
My migraines went out of control over the summer. I think the stress combined with the changes in activity and general anxiety have made mine at least 20% worse. I absolutely believe this data.
Nitrates and red wine are other common dietary triggers. The list of triggers varies from person to person and it make take trial and error to figure them out.
I’ve had chronic migraines since i was a teenager. They are triggered by food, hormones and when the weather changes rapidly (like from hot to cold, it’s crazy), so the food one is easy to manage (no red wines, hard cheeses, MSG), the other two, not so much. I take Topamax every day and did take Maxalt when one would pop-up and I hated taking that, it had some weird side effects, plus I’d have to take 2-3 to get the migraine to go away completely. But now I take Ubrelvy as needed for migraines and when a migraine pops up, one is all I need and that takes care of it and it’s gone. No side effects either, not for me at least. It’s been a life saver, I hope, down the road, they don’t find out it causes something weird.
Mine are so bad these days that my SO gets scared. I have no recommendations to add to the helpful comments above, just love and support.
I’m a chronic sufferer, but I’m also currently pregnant and have found mine have eased throughout second/third trimester – thank goodness, as I can barely take any medication.
I do many of the treatments mentioned above, but here are some others that work for me. Mine start in my neck, so I bought a curved foam pillow that fits to my neck, which has helped. I also went to a headache physio, who taught me some stretches, including pulling your chin back to realign your neck, and shrugging your shoulders and holding the shrug for a few seconds before fully relaxing the muscles.
The biggest help: if you get trigger points in your neck, getting your significant other to press firmly on the point with their thumb for thirty seconds at a time (it’s not as effective if you try to do it yourself). Pressure on the trigger point can set off muscle twitches that then relax the muscle. The trigger points can feel like little pea sized lumps, which twitch and reduce, or they can feel like a locked up muscle. I’m not exaggerating when I say that trigger point pressure got me through my first trimester, which was basically one long migraine until I learned the technique. Pressing the points can be *extraordinarily* painful, especially if you have found the point that is causing the migraine, but it’s so, so worth it.
I really hope this helps someone.
Can you tell more about the curved pillow? Because my latest thing is the migraine starts then moves down into my neck.
I’ve gotten “mild” migraines periodically since I was 15. I’ve been lucky in that regard – they happened once every few years, and I could get them under control with some Advil and a good nap in a dark, quiet room. This year, I hadn’t had a migraine in two years. Then in late July I saw the signs coming. Floaters in my vision, the squiggly lines in my vision, then black spots in my vision. I’ve experienced this before, so I knew what was coming. But this time my trusty Advil and nap didn’t work. I had a migraine every day for a week (which has never happened to me). On the second week of migraines, my left arm and leg started getting the tingly numb going-to-sleep feeling. I went to the ER because I thought I was having a stroke (I wasn’t, but I still have to pay for the CT and MRI I had to get to confirm that). This is also the first time I’ve ever had a doctor explain to me that my birth control raises my risk of stroke to something like 20% because of the type of migraines I have. So yeah. Migraines are the worst. I bought a new pair of blue light blocking glasses and have been wearing them religiously on all screens, including my phone, and I made an appointment to get an IUD.
I know it was the stress of this whole year that triggered it. I’ve slept less this year than I have in years, I haven’t been great at maintaining a good exercise schedule, and working remotely has not been as easy for me as it has been for others. I’m thankful for supportive family & friends and health insurance, however imperfect it is.
Good riddance to 2020. I hate it here.
One tip .. Botox can break the migraine cycle.
One bright spot—I’ve had them since childhood and they’ve gotten much less frequent with menopause. But the smoke in the air in California has been a trigger these last 2 months.
I have suffered from chronic migraine for almost 25 years. Here are some of the things I’ve learned, I hope these suggestions might help someone:
1. Diet is key. Eat lots of fruits and veggies. Stay away from sugar. No “diet” sodas or candy. Eat carbs in moderation, depending on your activity level. Carbs should be unrefined. No vegetable oils. Only olive oil and coconut oils, see a book called Deep Nutrition by Dr. Shanahan. Sorry if I spelled that incorrectly, you’ll find it anyway! Also, I often find that a really nice, well-sourced, grass fed steak (about once a week) helps with iron levels and seems to keep the headaches at bay.
2. Exercise helps tremendously, especially if you have a Type A personality and you need to burn off tension.
3. Hydration is so important, especially if you exercise and/or if weather is humid. Many people do not get enough salt in their diet, especially if they eat whole, fresh unprocessed foods and drink a lot of water. So check your sodium levels.
4. Professional massage can help immensely, if you can afford it. Acupuncture, too.
5. Go to a therapist and have him/her teach you to hypnotize yourself. This really is just a way of training yourself to go into a deep state of relaxation if you feel a headache coming on. It’s another great tool for the migraine toolkit. I have used this at home to relax, but also when I away from home, and/or if I am in a situation where you cannot take your medication. It can give you some time to get home and get comfortable.
You know what increases migranes? Lack of oxygen