Family Health Guide

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Headaches: Parent's Experience

Lara FitzSimmons, Chicago, IL, mom of one:

“I’ve had migraines since I was 18. I typically get them a few days before and during my period. The headache starts with a throbbing sensation behind my left eye, then spreads throughout my forehead. When it’s full blown, it’s like a vice grip on my head. If I treat it early enough, I don’t have any nausea or other symptoms.

For the longest time, the only that worked even slightly was Tylenol with codeine, but I couldn’t take it at work because of the side effects. So any time a headache came on, I’d have to leave the office. For the past 10 years I’ve been taking Maxalt (a triptan medication).  As long as I take it as soon as I feel the throbbing behind my left eye, it usually wipes out the ache within a half hour. If I don’t take it before my headache develops into a full-blown migraine, it’s not as effective. It’s great because I can take it at work. Recently, my doctor changed my routine so I take a low dose of the medication the night before my period starts, then twice a day throughout my period. I was also prescribed magnesium, which I am supposed to take five days before my period starts and for five days afterward. (Magnesium seems to prevent blood vessel inflammation, which causes migraine symptoms, says Dr. Diamond.)

When I was pregnant with my 9-month-old daughter, my headaches got worse during the first trimester. I had them more frequently than I’d ever have them before, so I took Tylenol with codeine. Unfortunately, it’s not nearly as effective as Maxalt, so I’d have to sleep off the headache. The headaches started getting better in the second trimester, and by the end of that trimester I had none. They didn’t return until my periods came back—four months after I gave birth.”

Nadia Tabri Berkowitz, Mill Valley, CA, mom of four:

“I don’t normally get headaches, but when I was pregnant with my second child, I got them three to five times a week—starting in the first trimester. I’d get a dull ache all over, then the pain would become stronger and my eyes and face would feel heavy. I felt nauseous, and I had to lie down in a dark room and go to sleep. It was debilitating because I couldn’t talk or move around. I was afraid to take anything stronger than Tylenol, so I suffered through them. When I was around 24 weeks, I got a headache that sent me to the ER. Doctors told me I was probably dehydrated and pumped two bags of saline solution into me. The headache disappeared immediately. I don’t think I was drinking enough fluids. Although I tried to drink more water, it seemed like I could never get enough. With my third and fourth pregnancies, I got headaches as well, although they were mostly in the first and second trimesters.

Nancy Fessock, Gillette, NJ, mom of two:

“I get migraine headaches at least once a month, and they last for two to three days. The first sign is flashing lights, and I’m not able to read. I can see the first few letters of a word, then everything to the right disappears. After the lights, I get a stabbing pain on the left side of my head. If I take Excedrin Migraine after the flashing starts, the headache goes away, although I usually feel foggy afterward. I put a warm neck wrap on my forehead, then sit down and close my eyes.

I also get tension headaches a few times a month—depending on my stress level. What seems to trigger them are my kids fighting or not listening; or a recurrence of a medical problem. When the headache strikes, I get a vice-like pain all over my head and in the back of my neck. I take Motrin first; if it doesn’t work, I’ll take Excedrin. I usually get relief within an hour.”