skeleton thinker

I was stumped by yet another medical mystery.

I have been plagued by migraine headaches for my whole life. My triggers include too much sunlight or sunlight from certain angles; overheating; too much alcohol; dehydration; not enough sleep; too much jostling while traveling by car, bus, train, plane, boat, roller coaster, horse and buggy, etc.; jostling from too much coughing; and vomiting for any reason. (Apologies if that was too graphic for you. . . . If it was, you may wish to stop reading.)

These migraines are no small deal. They leave me moaning in bed in severe pain. And they last ten days: exactly ten days, no matter what I do, diminishing in severity during that time. Luckily, I get them only a few times per year. Unluckily, they are debilitating, causing me to miss work, social engagements, and regular life activities; and they are extremely unpleasant.

(And people wonder why I don’t like to travel! Have you ever been stuck in a New York City hotel with a ten-day migraine?)

My usual medicine for migraines is ibuprofen. Lots of ibuprofen. 800 mg, 4 times a day, for 10 days. This allows me to return to work within a day or two, though at that point I still have frequent intervals during which I need to lie down.

Having heard about other medicines on the market, I asked my doctor about my options. Over a period of a year or two, she recommended a series of drugs, all in the triptan family: rizatriptan, sumatriptan, etc. I must have tried them all. But I could not keep a single one of them down. Within half an hour to an hour of taking a pill, I would acquire a level 10—maximum strength!!—headache, vomit the pill up, and stagger off to bed for the next several days.

Finally, after completing the brutal rounds of the triptans, my doctor recommended magnesium supplements. In previous months, I had taken a daily magnesium pill, but it did not seem to have any effect. However, my doctor explained that magnesium is not always absorbed well by the body, and some supplement formulations work significantly better than others.

Upon hearing this, I scampered off to the Internet. There, I read that, indeed, some magnesium pills are nearly useless because the body does not absorb the mineral. Yikes! I decided to try, instead of a pill, a powder that I mix with water. The manufacturer claims that the magnesium in this powder is in an easily digestible form.

Well, and guess what? I have not suffered from a ten-day migraine attack—knock on wood!—since beginning this daily powder supplement regimen, which was many months ago. (When I feel a headache coming on, I still reach for my ibuprofen standby and pop those pills as soon as possible, along with half a slice of bread so they are absorbed. This has happened several times in the past few months, but none of these twinges have developed into a full-blown attack—knock on more wood!)

This solution may not work for everyone. Everybody’s body is different. But perhaps it will help someone out there; and so I share my story.*

But anyway, here’s the main medical mystery here: why on earth didn’t my doctor share the magnesium idea first, before hitting me up with the hard stuff?

(I have some guesses as to the answer, and none of them are pretty. Fortunately, though, you stopped reading back at the second paragraph, so you will not be filled with desperation at the suggestion of pharmaceutical companies’ mighty, and powerfully complex, hold over physicians (see, for example, this article about human tendencies toward reciprocal gift giving); or patients who insist on the hard stuff, and as much of it as possible, and are offended by attempts to seek more natural solutions. . . .)


*Please be so good as to refer to the footnote in my original Medical Mysteries post.