Migraine is a relatively common affliction, one that affects more than 10% of people worldwide according to WHO, although studies in Europe show that it affects 6–15% of adult men and from 14–35% of adult women over the course of a year. Diagnosis is patchy for many as well, so it is difficult to say just how widespread it really is. What I do know for sure is that I suffer from them, so when I read Kirstie’s post over on the Beaut.ie blog this morning I thought I would share my own experiences with dealing with these monsters.
I’ve had migraines since I was about 11, although they were generally regarded as just bad headaches for many years. They began with puberty and untreated they would last up to 4 days at a time. My mother also suffered and in time my youngest sister would start to suffer with them as well. For me, they start with a smaller tension style headache and turn into a full blown migraine – with unilateral pain accompanied by intense tension in my neck and shoulder and often my stomach would stop. A strange sensation that, your stomach is normally moving about constantly as it digests and stops acid from pooling so when it stops it feels rather uncomfortable!
After diagnosis I would take caffergot – an ergotomine and caffeine mix. Ergotomine is a mould that grows on wheat and is a hallucinogen, thought to be responsible for the visions that ended in the Slalom Witch Trials! No hallucinations for me though, just stopping the migraine which was fabulous. Interestingly I did find out over the years that the version without caffeine was useless and even taking the non-caffeine pills with a cup of coffee didn’t work, shows how important those extras in pills can sometimes be.
When I was about 20 I finally was sent to a neurologist who worked through various triggers with me, and with his help I was able to better understand my migraines and start working towards minimising their occurrence – really the best that can be hoped for. Some we were able to get rid of, such as some foods – MSG is a particular culprit although I can have a little every now and then. We also identified lavender as a particularly bad trigger for me, so I do avoid that. Unfortunately some of my triggers are harder to get rid of – weather patterns and sudden weather changes which I would only really stop by moving (see, I really did move to Ireland for the weather!) and hormones. No getting rid of those! We found that I had the joy of hormone related migraines every two weeks, at both ends of my cycle. The only way to minimise it is to be on the pill, but eventually my body breaks through and that becomes less useful.
When I moved to Ireland I found that my beloved Ergotomine was nolonger available. It had been deprecated (to use a geeky programming term) in favour of the new Triptans. I was duly moved onto Zomig.
Now for the part that I can really relate to with Kirstie’s post. Because doctors were afraid to give too many repeat scripts, or perhaps because they knew a cash cow when they saw one this was my monthly bill to manage migraines (remember I get them twice a month guaranteed plus maybe 1 or 2 other attacks):
– Doctor’s visit €50
– 10 x Zomig €100
Over 12 months that works out to €1800. After a few months I found out about the drug payment scheme in Ireland, so I effectively got 2 of those Zomigs for free, saving me €240 a year. The doctors never did anything exciting by the way – just write me another script and maybe take my blood pressure from time to time. Easy money for them! Luckily I was in a position to be able to afford this – if I were less well off it would have been a real problem.
Eventually I discovered that I could get Immigran without a script over the order in Northern Ireland. The only catch was I was limited to one box in each pharmacy, so I would need to go up and spend an entire day traipsing around Belfast. I could generally get myself up to 2 months supply this way.
– Train ticket €40
– 20 x immigran tablets €64
Over 12 months that’s down to €960. What a difference! That’s 2 pair of designer shoes difference in a year!
Finally after I started seeing Christian and regularly going to Germany I discovered that there I could buy them online, have them delivered to the house and get 6 months supply in one hit. Cost over 12 months was down to less than €500. With that much savings I could start to look at alternative ways to lessen the number of migraines, such as regular massage.
Some of you may be worried about this, but I’ve had migraine for a long time. I’ve tried preventatives and found that they weren’t suitable for me. I’m also first to a doctor if there’s a change of pattern or anything unusual (twice I’ve been blinded by migraine – straight to the doc!). There’s no point in overdosing – the pain goes away within 2 hours or it’s not a migraine. An interesting side-effect of having the bulk drugs from Germany is that I’m less stressed about whether or not I have drugs to cope with a migraine, and this has reduced the number that I have!
Of course pregnancy put a major damper in all of this. As soon as I became pregnant I knew I had to stop them, or so I kept being told. Paracetemol does nothing at all, and the hormone surges meant migraines every second day in first trimester. After a while I prescribed immigran by the doctors here as the benefit of me taking them was deemed to outweigh the potential (and unknown) risks. According to the drugs board here, the risk in first and second trimester are very small – it’s the third trimester they’re more worried about. Thankfully frequency has dropped considerably down to one a week in second trimester.
So that’s my experiences with migraines, and also with the drugs/prescription system in Ireland, the UK and Germany.