How a Daily Migraine Sufferer Got Her Life Back

brain image made out of pills

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Key Takeaways

  • June is National Migraine and Headache Awareness Month.
  • More than four migraines per month warrants more than just a "rescue treatment" to stop a migraine when it's happening, according to specialists.
  • Medications designed specifically to prevent migraine can help chronic migraine sufferers have fewer bad days.

Amanda W., 34, has spent the majority of her life at the mercy of debilitating migraines. She was asked to leave high school after missing racking up too many migraine-related absences. She’s been let go from multiple jobs. And after trying over 20 different medications without meaningful results, she was ready to give up. 

“By the time I was experiencing migraines 28 days a month, I was considered chronic, and I had given up on just about everything,” Amanda tells Verywell. “I never felt like I was able to reach my full potential in any part of my life. I was a healthy, excited, motivated kid, and got smacked in the face with this really tough thing at age 9.” 

Years of battling with migraines did earn Amanda one important thing, though: a good rapport with a neurologist she trusted. Ultimately, that neurologist introduced her to the treatment that would change her life.

“Because I had such a great relationship with my neurologist, we would try one thing, and I would come back the next month after tracking my symptoms and migraine days,” Amanda says. “When Aimovig came out in 2018, she asked if I wanted to try it, and I said no. I had already tried so many things. And I was skeptical of trying an injectable. But my neurologist said she had been involved in the testing and had answers to all of my questions, so I decided to try it after all.”

To Amanda’s surprise, it worked. 

“I could feel results a couple of days after I started Aimovig,” she says. “The longer I took it, the better it got. My migraines have decreased by 50%—that’s half my life back—and the symptoms are less intense. Even one day back is a gift.”

Aimovig (erenumab) works to prevent migraines by targeting a protein in the brain and nervous system called calcitonin gene-related peptide (CGRP). Specifically, it prevents CGRP, which can cause the inflammation and pain responsible for migraine, from docking to CGRP receptors in the body. In other words, it prevents the migraine from happening in the first place.

Proper Treatment Depends on Proper Diagnosis

According to neurologist Amaal J. Starling, MD, a headache and migraine specialist at Mayo Clinic, understanding the full scope of symptoms is key to getting patients like Amanda the treatment they need.

“Patients will often only report their most severe days because that’s what they’ve been trained to do,” Starling tells Verywell. “But I want to know about every day where a migraine is affecting your life.”

For Amanda, that involved headaches almost every day. Her treatment plan needed to reflect that.

Treating migraine headaches involves both maintenance medications, which are taken on a regular basis to prevent migraines, and rescue medications to alleviate symptoms when a migraine occurs. Aimovig is a maintenance medication taken once a month. 

“Not everyone is going to need a prescription maintenance medication,” Starling says. “There are people who only have a couple of migraine attacks a month, and for them, a rescue treatment (like prescription-strength NSAIDs) may be enough. However, if someone is having four migraine attacks a month or more, they need maintenance medication.”

Aimovig isn't the only CGRP-blocking medication approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to prevent migraine. Other medications include:

  • Emgality (galcanezumab)
  • Ajovy (fremanezumab)
  • Vyepti (eptinezumab)
  • Nurtec ODT (rimegepant)

Support Makes a Difference

While medication can be an essential part of migraine treatment, lifestyle modifications can help, too. Amanda says that for the first time, she has a manager who wants to help her succeed in spite of her migraines, rather than penalize her for missing work because of them.

“I’ve been fired from jobs before for missing too many days, regardless of if I had the available sick time or coverage. The general sentiment was that if you’re not willing to be part of the team or pull your own weight, it’s best if we part ways,” she says. She decided to step down from her job as a teacher, realizing that it was something she couldn’t do in her unpredictable state of health. “I was passionate about it, I was really good at it. Making that choice was really tough.”

When she transitioned to working for a global manufacturing company, she feared things were going the same way.

“I got that meeting invite from my manager to discuss sick days, and I immediately assumed because of past experiences that this was the beginning of me getting fired,” Amanda says. “What I experienced in that meeting was something I had never experienced before. My boss asked me what was going on and how I was feeling. I made a choice to be super vulnerable and lay it all out on the line. Her response was ‘How can I help you be successful?’ We made an action plan for days when I was feeling awful.”

Amanda now has more work from home flexibility. Her desk is no longer next to a window, preventing sunlight from being a migraine trigger. 

“Having that great experience with my direct supervisor made it easier to open up to others about my invisible illness,” she says. 

Starling stresses if more people understood what it was like to experience an invisible illness, migraine would be less stigmatized. 

“All migraine cases are a result of genetic neurologic disease,” Starling says. “You can’t fault people for their DNA. There are over 38 genes that have mutations that may cause susceptibility [to migraine]. Everyone’s migraine disease is different, which is why it is so important that we have many treatment options available.”

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2 Sources
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  1. Novartis. Aimovig: highlights of prescribing information.

  2. de Boer I, van den Maagdenberg AMJM, Terwindt GM. Advance in genetics of migraine. Curr Opin Neurol. 2019;32(3):413-421. doi:10.1097/WCO.0000000000000687