“This is my struggle! I just pray everyday and hope someday I’ll be healed!” said Michelle Frazier in response to Tracy H.’s Migraine Journey published on Migraine Again. If only we knew what the future holds. We all want to know when this migraine pain is going to stop — and if it ever will.
Will it get better? Will it get worse? Will my vacation, birthday or wedding day be a migraine disaster? Will I be able to enjoy chocolate or wine or bright sunshine again? Is there any way I can stop chronic migraines in the future? That’s what we want to know. Yet doctors can’t give you a definitive answer, because migraine attacks are generally unpredictable. A new study is finding what increases your risk of progressing from episodic to often disabling chronic migraine – something every migraine sufferer should know.
Common Migraine Life Cycle
According to The Migraine Research Foundation, migraine is most common during the peak productive years, between the ages of 25 and 55. While 1 in 10 school age kids have migraine, The Migraine Trust reports that most people have their first attack during their teens or early twenties. It is rare for migraine to start later in life. Typically, migraine becomes less severe and frequent, and may even disappear, by around the age of 50. For some women this is associated with their menopause, for others it may be retirement or reduced stress.
How Migraines Progress Over Time
According to a 12-year retrospective study on how migraines progress over time, 3 of 10 of migraine patients who had been getting 1 to 6 attacks per month reported their attacks had stopped. That’s great news! For a third of us, migraines may be temporary.
The researchers, led by Dr. Carl Dahlof of the Gothenburg Migraine Clinic in Sweden, found that of the remaining patients who continued to experience the headaches 12 years later, most had fewer, briefer, and milder attacks. That’s also good news.
- Fewer Attacks for most: 80% reported a change in attack frequency, with 80% of them having fewer migraines and
20% having more.
- Shorter attacks for most: 55% reported a change in duration of attack, with 66% of them saying their attacks lasted shorter periods of time and 34% saying they lasted longer.
- Less intense pain for most: 66% said the pain intensity changed, with 83% of them experiencing milder pain and 17% experiencing more severe pain.
Now, the bad news: a small percentage progressed to the more disabling form known as chronic migraine, defined as having migraines more than 15 days a month. The American Migraine Prevalence and Prevention Study (AMPPS) found that 2.5% of the US population suffers from chronic migraine – including many of us. Another study is underway, the Chronic Migraine Epidemiology and Outcome Study (CAMEO), to follow 12,000 chronic migraine sufferers and discover the factors that increase the likelihood of episodic migraines turning chronic.
What You Can Do Now to Stop Chronic Migraines in the Future
According to Dr. Richard B. Lipton, director of the Montefiore Medical Center Headache Center and professor of neurology at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, in New York City, the CAMEO study revealed “not surprisingly, among people with episodic migraine, the worse you are, the more likely you are to continue to progress. So high frequency and high disability are important predictors of progression.”
Dr. Lipton told Migraine Again that there are several risk factors patients should be aware of that increase likelihood that episodic migraines will turn chronic and disabling. These include:
- Comorbid conditions, including depression, anxiety, asthma and rhinitis
- Adverse childhood experiences and highly stressful adult life events
- Use of opioids (e.g. Fiorinal/Fioricet/Tylenol with Codeine, Dilaudid, OxyContin, Percocet) and barbiturates (e.g. Amytal, Nembutal, Seconal) to treat attacks
- Allodynia, the experience of ordinarily non-painful stimuli as painful
So what can you do? Patients are often advised to manage risk factors for progression to chronic migraine when possible, such as losing weight, treating depression/anxiety, and avoiding risky medications. And to be patient: many people eventually outgrow them, often in their fifties and sixties. Many women expect that menopause will finally bring relief, but that only happens for about half of migraine sufferers. In fact, surgical menopause actually increases the odds of migraine continuing, says Dr. Susan Hutchinson, Director of the Orange County Migraine & Headache Center, Irvine, CA.
Learning from Each Other
That’s what’s so great about the Migraine Journeys you’ve each shared this past year. Each is different. Each is a poignant real-life, true story of one person’s struggles, lessons and victories with migraine. Each is a sliver of that crystal ball we’re looking for to tell us what our migraine future holds.
It takes strength and a good attitude to tolerate migraine pain every day, every week or every month. Until your pain improves, you can help someone else understand what lies ahead bysharing your Migraine Journey. It’s easy, takes about 7 minutes to answer a few questions, and we don’t use your name to protect your privacy.
Your Migraine Journey could offer a warning, relief idea or comfort to someone else. Can you help someone else stop chronic migraines before they start?