Migraine: Alison's story

Alison,* 29, had been experiencing intense headaches for several months. She felt a throbbing sensation on one side of her head, and it could last up to two days before the pain would subside. She felt nauseous and was very sensitive to loud noises and bright lights, so she retreated to her darkened bedroom until the headache was over.

Since moving to Calgary for a new job, Alison hadn't had time to find a new doctor. She had been self-medicating with non-prescription painkillers, which offered some relief. As Alison's job as a project manager became more demanding, she had headaches more often, and was sometimes forced to miss work or the few social engagements she made.

After Alison missed a deadline because of a headache, her colleague, who has migraines, suggested she try a different type of medication, one made especially for migraines. Like many people, Alison wasn't aware that there were prescription treatments just for migraines. She agreed to visit a walk-in clinic at lunchtime.

The doctor diagnosed Alison's symptoms as migraine. He asked if there was a history of migraine in her family, and Alison recalled her mother having bad headaches quite often. The doctor asked Alison if she had identified any migraine triggers. She mentioned that eating chocolate and take-out food seemed to cause headaches, and the doctor said it's common for foods to trigger migraines. He advised Alison to keep a journal to identify triggers such as stress at work, her menstrual cycle, lack of sleep, or hunger. Alison admitted that she usually skipped breakfast and sometimes didn't have time for lunch. When she did eat, the food was not very healthy.

The doctor explained that there are medications developed specifically for migraine. After reviewing her medical history and asking about medication allergies, he prescribed a medication called rizatriptan. He explained that the medication should be taken at the first sign of a migraine. Alison's doctor also explained that the medication, which belongs to a family of medications known as triptans, relieves migraine pain by mimicking shrinking swollen blood vessels in the head.

The doctor also recommended that Alison make some lifestyle changes – not skipping meals and getting plenty of rest were priorities. Alison agreed to try. For the next month, she kept track of her activities and what she ate. Chocolate and takeout foods did seem to be linked to migraines, and the level of stress at her job seemed constantly high.

Alison changed her eating habits. She would have at least a cereal bar in the morning, and made salads or sandwiches to bring to work. Her boss agreed to delegate parts of the projects she was working on to others. Alison also took walks at lunchtime with a co-worker.

Over the following few weeks, Alison had a few headaches, but not as many as before, and she found that the migraine medication prescribed by her doctor worked much better for her than what she used to take. Alison started to feel more in control of her headaches, and is now happy she decided to take action by getting a doctor's help.

*Alison's story is a hypothetical story based on experiences of migraine sufferers.

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