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How My PTSD Triggered Chronic Migraines


My chronic migraines have been exceptionally difficult to treat. I’ve been on dozens of medications, tried botox, diet changes, lifestyle changes and have still barely made a dent in the number of migraines I experience each month.

It’s been apparent for some time that my migraines are complicated with a mess of triggers as varying as the weather. There are the external triggers I can rarely control, such as bright, fluorescent lights, white noise, repetitive and loud sounds, heat and strong smells. There are the triggers I can mostly control, such as diet, sleep and exercise. But there is a larger, more insidious, trigger that completely debilitates me. That trigger is my PTSD.

I’ve had PTSD since I was 6 years old when two traumatic events happened in quick succession and were followed by a lack of the support and comfort a child needs when traumatized. When I was younger, my PTSD primarily presented itself in the form of frequent nightmares, irrational fears and chronic anxiety. It wasn’t until I was an adult when my PTSD became severe, triggered by further traumatic events and re-traumatization, and within six months I was experiencing chronic migraines that have continued and plagued me for the past 10 years.

There is no doubt in my mind as to the link between my PTSD and chronic migraines. I’ve discussed this with my medical providers and they agree it was certainly a trigger, even though my migraines continued after the PTSD calmed down and was more manageable. My PTSD was the catalyst.

Right now, my method of treatment is a dualistic approach focusing on both the medical and emotional aspects of my migraines. It’s been a hard journey accepting that both my PTSD and migraines are conditions I will never cure and can only hope to manage. I will continue trying new treatments and hope I can eventually control these conditions enough to live a more normal life, free of constant pain and anxiety.

This experience of discovery and understanding the root of my migraines has caused me to wonder how many others also have strong emotional triggers, and how many might benefit from addressing their emotional histories when trying to cope with chronic migraines. I’ve observed among friends that so many who have chronic pain, whether it be fibromyalgia, migraines, chronic digestive issues or other painful conditions, also have experienced a great deal of emotional trauma, depression and anxiety.

In many situations, physicians focus on the physical symptoms while neglecting the emotional ones, or vice versa. Ultimately, it’s up to the patient to realize the connection and make a decision to address both the physical and emotional parts of themselves and their conditions. I truly believe that, once this is observed, more people will be able to find relief and finally manage their chronic pain.

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Thinkstock photo via harshvardhanroy.