Wednesday, January 10, 2007

The drugs do work...

Richard Ashcroft was wrong when he said 'the drugs don't work, they just make it worse' because in my experience of the last two days, the drugs do work. Well that one (pictured on the right) does anyway.

A few years ago I went through a rough period with mysterious headaches. I had them occasionally in spring / summer 1999, but didn't give them much thought. They returned in force in February 2000 leading to a period of 6 weeks when I was signed off work in March / April. My doctor didn't really know what they were, they were a bit like migraine, but were certainly not 'classic' migraine.

The pattern of attacks was this:
  • I was fine in the morning - no symptoms.
  • By lunchtime I was feeling light-headed and a bit dizzy.
  • By 2pm I had a medium-strength headache, fairly severe light-headedness and what I can only describe as a fuzzy brain - basically I found it hard to think about things, let alone concentrate on anything. Doing a simple sum, for example, would have taken me ages.
  • By 4pm I had a major headache - always at the front of my head, usually both sides (which is unusual in migraine) and had to be lying down in a darkened room with a cold facecloth on my forehead.
  • By teatime the headache had eased but I was still fuzzy brained.
  • By about 8pm I was more or less back to normal.
  • Repeat daily.
It wasn't so bad if I got outside (and stayed outside) in the mornings and the symptoms definitely varied according to the weather (cold and wet days were bettern than warm and dry). Under my doctor's advice I tried various drugs, was referred to various specialists (ENT and neurology) but nothing really worked. A holiday in Tenerife worked though! During the holiday and after it I was fine.

But in the spring of 2001 it came back again. We managed (by trial and error) to find a drug that greatly reduced the symptoms to a manageable level, but it wasn't very satisfactory. So I went to see the famous herbalist Jan de Vries who tried various things with me. Homeopathic things did absolutely nothing, but then again there is nothing in them to do anything... Herbal things worked better. Indeed, the herbal mixture Marum Verum (no idea what's in it) actually had a better effect than the prescription drugs... but still didn't get me back to normal.

When 2002 came around, the symptoms returned again in the spring. The doctor prescribed Pizotifen. It worked straight away. Bliss. No headaches. However, it only dealt with the symptoms, not the problem so I stuck with the herbal stuff and eventually managed to get rid of the headaches altogether... in 2004.

2005 and 2006 were fine. But over the past few weeks I've felt it coming back again, and last weekend was awful. So this time I went straight to the doctor and got Pizotifen. Bliss again.

I'll start the herbal stuff to deal with the problem too. It'll take a while though. Wish I knew what the root of the problem was. Any suggestions anyone?

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At 12:46 pm, Blogger Chris HH said...

Sounds like classic low-level Carbon Monoxide poisoning! Do you only get it at work?

At 12:55 pm, Blogger Ricky Carvel said...

No, I actually get it worse if working at home. And I have got it when working in four different offices in three different buildings.

It is almost certainly a combination of environmental and dietary factors, but I've never managed to figure out what the individual factors are. The only factor that I definitely identified was bagels. I used to eat them for breakfast, but now I know that a bagel for breakfast one day will make the headaches much worse on the two following days (but not the day I ate the bagel on). Highly odd. What is there that is unique to bagels?

I also suspect that greek yoghurts have a similar effect, but much more rapid. And the fact that it is worst Feb-April suggests that it may be pollen related (especially as I get bad hayfever anyway), but not grass pollen - some trees and mosses produce their pollen in these months.

At 10:11 pm, Blogger Marcus G said...

The only problem with pizotifen is the weight gain. Last summer I reached an all time high of 14 stone 10 after a year of pizotifen (as a migraine preventative - semi successful); mercifully a different consultant switched me to topomirate, and four months on (during which I've also cut out most sugary things, so it's been a two pronged attack) I'm back to 11 stone 10. And the topomirate has (so far) been very successful in cutting out the migraines - which for me are also a-typical, but different to yours. I lose balance, memory, access to words and the ability to count, with occasional severe headaches and photophobia - and this can last between two days and three weeks. (Though the worst was a series of attacks which lasted for some months.)
Incidentally, Coca Cola is a great cure for headaches. American hospitals sometimes offer it before medication - it's cheaper and as effective as low level pain killers. But again, all that sugar does you no favours. Coke Zero has its place in my fridge.

At 10:46 pm, Blogger Ricky Carvel said...

Hello Marcus, how was the skiing?

Yes, weight gain is an issue, especially as I am at an all-time maximum weight even before going on it. Last time I put on about a stone during my time on pizotifen, and never really got rid of it... oops. However, I am only intending on this being a short-term useage this time until the herbals get to work on whatever the problem actually is.

But those mid-morning chocolate bars are a much greater temptation when on pizotifen!

However, I find that coke actually makes my headaches worse - I suspect it is the diuretic effect of it as irn-bru (which has eqivalent amounts of caffiene) has much less of a headache-inducing effect.

At 3:32 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi, i don't understand when you say Pizotifen only deals with the symptoms and not the underlying problem. It is not an abortive but a preventative and so it suppresses the underlying mechanism that causes the migraine NOT the symptoms.

At 3:39 pm, Blogger Ricky Carvel said...

Hi Anonymous,

You're half right. Pizotifen interrupts or suppresses the mechanism, but it still doesn't deal with the root cause.

Somewhere earlier in the process, something happens to initiate the mechanism which needs pizotifen to break it.

But pizotifen doesn't deal with whatever chemical imbalance gets the mechanism started in the first place. If I could address that, the mechanism would never start and pizotifen wouldn't be needed.

As it happens, I've discovered that avoiding eating bread actually prevents the mechanism from starting most of the time...


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