Serena Williams’ migraines became debilitating in lockdown

Like so many others who experience migraines, Serena Williams’ migraines became debilitating during lockdown. While she’d had milder migraines for years prior, the stress and conditions of the pandemic triggered worse and longer pain. And because she was a trained athlete, she’d been used to working through it, so she ignored the signs and stressors, thinking the headaches would go away. Fortunately, she sought medical help to help her get back on her feet. The two biggest factors that helped her are setting boundaries and medicine.

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit last March and all of a sudden Serena Williams was spending most of her time at home, trying to entertain her 3-year-old daughter Olympia while getting on hours-long video calls and playing tennis, the milder migraine she dealt with for years suddenly became “debilitating.”

The 23-time Grand Slam champion, 39, came to realize that stress, “or just overworking at my computer” was a major trigger.

While playing in nail-biting tennis matches are “obviously the most high-stress” activities for Williams, she tells PEOPLE she was “just so used to playing through pain.” And those migraine attacks were different from the pandemic migraine attacks she was suddenly facing.

“I think things that I’m not used to — because I don’t usually do it 24/7 — like working on my venture fund and taking care of a child and doing my fashion company,” she says, explaining what triggered her intense migraine attacks.

“I have really good boundaries now, so I know when I’m supposed to do things and what I’m not supposed to do things. So I know when I play tennis, I know when I do my business,” she says. “Migraine are attacks that I don’t try to have.”

[From People]

Phew – I’m getting a headache just reading Serena’s to-do list! We’ve been discussing how migraines have been getting so much worse during the pandemic. Although most articles have touched on this same reasoning, I like the clarity with which Serena puts it, “I think things that I’m not used to — because I don’t usually do it 24/7.” Not only 24/7, but all at once because it’s all there under one roof. And because it’s all there, demanding our attention, I think many of us did just “play though the pain.” We felt the warning signs, or we knew we should drink another glass of water, but if we just did that one last email or make it through that one Zoom call, we might get five minutes to ourselves before dinner. There was always something wasn’t there?

The medicine the article discussed is Ubrelvy. Serena has an endorsement deal with them so that is the only medication mentioned. Just for clarification, Ubrelvy is a prescription medication intended to stop a migraine if you are already having one. Those types of drugs are a godsend if you end up in a full-blown attack and I always have one on hand. But they aren’t used as a preventative measure. The boundaries Serena talked about are preventative and possibly the most important part of a migraine sufferers health plan. It does stink to have to say no to someone because you’re sick. But it’s a very important lesson to learn. I’ve learned that if I say no to that one activity, I can make it up to whoever later. If I don’t say no, I run the very real risk of making myself unavailable to everyone for the rest of the day and possibly the next due to a migraine, so it’s worth it to say no. Serena is one of if not the best athlete out there. She’s in top shape, fully aware of her body and looks out for herself. If she couldn’t will these migraines away, there is no reason to think we can either.

Photo credit: Instagram

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24 Responses to “Serena Williams’ migraines became debilitating in lockdown”

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  1. Mabs A'Mabbin says:

    I feel for and commiserate with any and all women suffering migraines. There’s no worse feeling. When the thought of physically removing your head with a hand saw sounds awesome, there isn’t much more we can endure.

    • Myra says:

      I laughed but it’s so true. I literally wanted to drill that specific portion on the right side to get some relief. On a lighter note, this article was a reminder for me to go drink more water.

      • MissMarierose says:

        haha. Same here. I got up to get a glass of water before I started reading the comments.
        Maybe every article about migraines should end with a reminder to drink more water.

    • Alissa says:

      yep. I always say I just want to cut my head off. or have it put in a vise grip lol.

      I got put on prescription meds for when I’m having a migraine a couple years ago, but this past year I also got put on a daily preventative because they were increasing in frequency so much.

    • AlpineWitch says:

      I laughed about your comment but it is so true!

      I can relate to what Serena says so much.
      I had a 8-day long migraine during lockdown. I wished I had a guillotine at hand, as I had to stay most of the time in a dark room with headphones (with no music, obviously) to muffle the sound in the house. Even the slightest glimmer of light or the tiny noise was unbearable to me.

      I have never heard of Ubrelvy and will check if it’s available in UK, as currently the only painkiller I have been given for the migraines is cocodamol.

    • Tosca says:

      I completed a mind-body healing program called Curable (all on Zoom and their app) and although my pain problem is not migraines per se (although headaches are part of it), my classmates with migraines have seen theirs either greatly decrease or stop altogether. It’s an intense program and not for the faint of heart, but wow has it been life-changing. I feel so much better.

  2. Lauren says:

    Since the pandemic stared my migraines have reduced in frequency, but the pain has strengthened. The worse ones are the ones that hit on only one side of the forehead. I always try to remember to drink water, but it’s difficult.

  3. mellie says:

    My doctor switched me over to ubrelvy and it is wonderful. I don’t get a migraine too very often, maybe once a month, but that stuff is a miracle. The other as needed drug I was on had terrible side effects.

    • Giddy says:

      I have had migraines for over 25 years. I’m calling my doctor today to request a trial run of Ubrelvy. I would love to get off my current medication, Zomig. It usually works, but it leaves me so sleepy, and even if I can stay awake, I have zero energy. Last year my neurologist said that I was just about out of pain control options and she wanted to do a treatment where she would give me 36 shots of Botox all around my scalp. I’ve been hesitating because the very idea of that frightens me. If Ubrelvy could help me and keep me from having to have those shots, I will be so excited!

      • mellie says:

        Oh my, I’m sorry… I’d rather have the worst cold/flu than a migraine. It’s just the worst, isn’t it?
        I do take a low does of Topamax as a daily. Then over the years when I would get a migraine I would take Imitrex (yuk!), so the past few years I’ve been on Maxalt, that one had the “sleep all day” side effect, plus it made my nerves go ape-$hit, I literally felt like I was on fire.
        I will get a migraine right in the inner corner of my left eye and it makes me want to stab my eye out. It’s so terrible. I know the food triggers, but last week we had a 70 degree day and then the weather switched to a 35 degree day…automatic migraine when the weather changes like that and there’s nothing I could do about it. And stress brings them on too.
        I think Khloe K. is on a commercial for Nurtec, another option. My daughter is a pharmacist and says that one is starting to gain some traction too. Anyway, I hope this works for you!

  4. Mina_Esq says:

    I don’t have a history of migraines, but I started having severe headaches in lockdown. To the point where I would think I had contracted covid because the headaches were so severe and out of the ordinary. It’s kind of reassuring to know that it’s not just us mere mortals that are struggling with things. P.s. I love the cute Olympia photos. Can you even imagine having Serena as your mom?!!

  5. Liz version 700 says:

    Lockdown made my migraines go crazy too! And now I need to go chug some water. It is nice to know I am jot alone. She is mad inspirational.

  6. Giddy says:

    Just last week I found out about another result of tension during lockdown. I thought I was handling it relatively well, but last week I lost a filling and went to my dentist. He told me that I had cracked two of my teeth and I had to have two root canals. I was very surprised because I’ve never had any dental problems of that nature. Then he told me that he gets articles and studies almost every day of problems like mine that are due to the lockdown: cracking teeth etc. from tension. In my case he said that I have begun clenching my teeth at night. It took a year of the lockdown to create a problem, but my dentist said that it has become unsurprising to see patients like me.

    • HoofRat says:

      My dental hygienist said the same thing during my first appointment after lockdown lifted – lots of people with hairline cracks who didn’t have them before COVID. I’m lucky that my insurance covers a night splint. It helped a lot, but I’ve also had to get two teeth crowned because I’ve worn them down so badly, clenching my jaw in my sleep.

  7. t fanty fan says:

    Had migraines for 42 years. Botox was of no help to me and it was so painful I always cried before going for the visit. Now I use Aimovig once a month and have ubrelvy for the headaches as they show up. Much better options that before! Glad we got relief in my lifetime. As for water, I do not drink it. I do use zero sugar gatorade, or lemonade with stevia or all the herbal teas.

    • julie j says:

      Thank you for talking about Botox and migraines. They help only sometimes. For mine I was using a Schedule 2 drug that I can only get from my doctor at his office. During Covid that was not happening. Edibles, 4 advil, 4 shots of espresso helped. They are debilitating. I need to look into Aimovig.

  8. Mle428 says:

    Ubrelvy has been life changing for me. I would miss out on 3 to 5 days of life with a migraine, and I have an anphylactic allergy to the triptan class (Imitrex, Maxalt, etc). I’d end up in the ER once or twice a year where I’d be treated like a drug seeker. By the time I’d subject myself to that abuse by the doctors and nurses I’d have been sick for days…

    Now, I take a Ubrelvy and the headache is gone in an hour or two. No missed work, no missed time with my hubby and son, nothing!

  9. ChloeCat says:

    What ticks me off is that the medication she shills for, Ubrelvy, is cost prohibitive to a lot of people. Same goes for the one Khloe Kardashian shills for. I get samples of Aimovig from my neurologist’s office because my insurance, even though it is technically covered, is way too expensive for me. The amount of money these drug companies are paying these famous people to endorse their drugs could be used instead to give the drugs to lower income people, think about that.

  10. Indeed says:

    AIMOVIG. AIMOVIG. AIMOVIG. Life changing. Once a month injection (auto-inject you do yourself like an epipen). Haven’t had a migraine in a year. (And mine knock me out for three days straight). Run, don’t walk, to your neurologist.

  11. Zantasia says:

    Mine ocular migraines come from clenching my teeth, and my dentist made me this bite splint thing that is essentially physical therapy for my mouth. It seems to be helping—like they are downgraded to a constant tension headache, but it is SO expensive. It kills me that everyone can’t access that type of help.

  12. Genxjules says:

    This is really interesting. I have had mild hormonal migraines forever. But last week I had one that was so bad. Nausea and vomiting which meant I couldn’t treat the pain with oral medicine. The pain was so otherworldly for me I also had what I think were panic or anxiety attacks too. I know it was stress that brought it on, and was exacerbated by two cocktails that night before the migraine started, but it was no joke.

  13. IUnderstand says:

    I just suffered a horrible migraine that made my eyes and teeth feel like they were going to explode. The past year has been horrible with them being in lockdown and noticed I’m getting migraines right before my period. I was cleared for my card, so prescription marijuana; before that I was taking CBD. Talk to your doctor for the best outcome of course and always stand your ground.