Overcoming the Debilitating Pain of Chronic Migraines

Your Health | one year ago

Overcoming the Debilitating Pain of Chronic Migraines

Migraines dominated DeQuinda Miller's life. Then, a visit to a migraine specialist led her to treatment that helped her regain control.

DeQuinda Miller’s migraines dominated her life. She had migraines nearly every day for more than a decade. Her migraines became so severe that when one came on, she’d have to leave wherever she was – sharing a meal at a restaurant with her family, at a concert with friends – before they’d progress to the point of excruciating pain and vomiting. Soon, she stopped going out with family and friends because her health had become too unpredictable.

“People don’t understand that when you’re in chronic pain, it becomes depressing. You don’t want to go anywhere, or you don’t want to do anything,” DeQuinda says. “I would pray all the time for the migraines to leave because I couldn’t do anything else. I couldn’t work because I was sick, I couldn’t eat because I was nauseous, and I could barely walk because I had vertigo. And yet I still had all the responsibilities that all adults have. It’s hard.”

DeQuinda sought migraine care from primary care providers, trying six medications without success. Eventually, the migraines interfered with her career – a career she loved. As a case worker for the North Carolina Department of Social Services, DeQuinda helps families in her community and finds great fulfillment in the work. When she began to consider disability leave, DeQuinda decided to try another option: seeing a migraine specialist.

Not Just a Headache. A Migraine.

For people who don’t have migraines, it might be easy to confuse one with a bad headache. Migraines are much more debilitating. In fact, an intense headache is just one symptom of a migraine. Migraines can also cause nausea, vision problems and pain in the head, face, and upper neck. When over-the-counter medications don’t work and primary care providers aren’t able to offer a solution, migraine specialists can offer expertise in the field. With treatments emerging for chronic migraines, these specialists can connect patients with new, highly effective treatments.

At her first appointment with Katherine Schultz, PA-C, a physician assistant who specializes in migraine care at Atrium Health Neurosciences Institute, DeQuinda shared how frustrated she’d become. Schultz asked questions and took the time to really listen to her answers. After feeling a lack of understanding about her migraines for years, DeQuinda felt heard and understood. And, more importantly, she felt hope.

“I was really impressed with her. She really took the time to learn what was going on,” DeQuinda says. “She told me that she was going to find something she could do about my migraines, and she wouldn’t give up on me. She encouraged me and showed me that she was in my corner.”

To Schultz, her goal was to offer care that would allow DeQuinda to regain control of her life. She didn’t want DeQuinda to lose out on any more experiences due to chronic migraines.

“Migraines are often underdiagnosed. If you have a headache that lasts more than four hours, is associated with sensitivity to light and/or sound, nausea and is worse with activity, you are more than likely having a migraine,” Schultz says. “Many new migraine-specific treatment options are available that are both effective and well tolerated. Just because you may not have had success with certain medications in the past doesn’t mean that one of these new medications won’t be the answer you are looking for.”

Schultz began DeQuinda on a CGRP (calcitonin gene-related peptide) blocking medication, which helps prevent future migraines from occurring. While there is no cure for migraines yet, these medications are changing the lives of people who experience chronic migraines by drastically reducing the number of headaches they have.

When DeQuinda returned to see Schultz for a follow-up visit, she cried with happiness. She told Schultz that she discovered an improvement in her quality of life that she had almost given up on. She could once again go out to eat with her family, she could go to concerts, and she no longer had to consider taking disability leave from her career. The medication offered her the relief she needed and the freedom she missed.

“Migraine sufferers no longer have to choose between enduring the side effects of medications in order to have migraine relief,” Schultz says. “There are options that provide quick relief without it impacting your ability to function the rest of the day. The most important message I give my patients is to not lose hope, and we will work together to find the best treatment plan that meets their individual goals.”

Now, DeQuinda wants people with chronic migraines to understand that they may have more options than they realize, and that help is available.

“I’m just so thankful that things are getting so much better. It’s like night-and-day difference. I still have migraines, but I’m not having them every day like I was,” DeQuinda says. “Now my family asks me, ‘So you don’t have a migraine? Want to go shopping? Want to do this or that?’ And I can go now. It’s definitely been such a blessing.”

For Schultz, who understands all too well the pain and disruptions of chronic migraines, watching DeQuinda’s progress gave her professional and personal satisfaction.

“As a provider, there is nothing more rewarding than helping a patient regain their quality of life,” Schultz says.