After an intense headache cost tennis star Serena Williams a tournament match, she learned her pain was related to her menstrual cycle. "I'd never heard of [menstrual migraine headaches] before," she says. "All this time, I thought it was a regular migraine." About 60% of women with migraine headaches say it gets worse during their periods, and hormones may be to blame. Your doctor may suggest medicines to even out your hormone levels.
Women are more likely to get migraine headaches, but about 6% of men get them too. Actor and director Ben Affleck is among those who have been slowed down by migraine pain. While directing Gone, Baby, Gone in 2006, he had a migraine so bad it sent him to the hospital. "I just kept on going and going and hardly slept," Affleck says. A regular sleep schedule helps prevent migraines. Go to bed and get up at the same time every day, even on weekends.
Childhood trips to Disneyland usually bring on smiles. For actress Lisa Kudrow, "A day of excitement and eating would always end in a horrible headache," she says. Kudrow's father and siblings were also familiar with migraine pain. Migraine is a condition that runs in families. Children have about a 50% chance of having migraines if one of their parents do, and a 75% chance if both parents are affected. Knowing your family history of migraine headaches may help your doctor know how to treat you.
Actress Marcia Cross seemed unstoppable as perfectionist Bree Van de Kamp on the TV show Desperate Housewives. Off camera, she struggles with migraine headaches. "Having a migraine and trying to work was impossible for me," she says. "I became nauseous and my vision was affected." Cross has been a spokeswoman for a triptan migraine medicine. Triptans reduce migraine pain and nausea by stimulating serotonin which in turn eases inflammation and narrows blood vessels.
In 2008, singer Janet Jackson canceled a string of concerts after suffering from vestibular migraine headaches. This type of migraine gives you vertigo -- a feeling like the room is spinning. Bright lights and loud sounds may also bother you. Up to 50% of people with migraine headaches also sometimes feel dizziness or vertigo. Vestibular migraine headaches are treated like other migraines, with medicines and by avoiding headache triggers.
Actress and singer Kristin Chenoweth nursed a migraine after winning an Emmy in 2009. Then her doctor suggested botulinum toxin. "I haven't had a full-blown headache since," she says. This treatment is approved for people who have 15 or more migraine headaches a month, but it may not completely cure you. Studies do show that people who've had the treatment have up to half as many headaches.
When Grammy winner Carly Simon crooned, "I haven't got time for the pain," she wasn't referring to migraine headaches. But she could have been. Simon has made a lot of lifestyle changes to prevent headaches. "I don't smoke, I sleep for eight hours, and coffee is not a part of my life," Simon says. She also avoids alcohol, a common trigger for some people. Red wine, in particular, seems to set off migraine headaches.
Cindy McCain has described her migraine pain as torture. "It feels like someone swung an axe and hit me in the forehead," she says of one of her headaches. The attacks were especially bad during her late husband Sen. John McCain's presidential campaign in 2008. The bright lights from cameras often triggered headaches. "Sunglasses are a migraine sufferer's best friend," Cindy McCain says.
Hall of Fame quarterback Troy Aikman started having headaches when he was a boy. "When you make a living getting hit, almost everyone has a headache, so it's not something that's much talked about," Aikman says. Constant travel and missed sleep made them worse. Migraine triggers vary among people, but travel can disrupt your regular routine and lead to headaches. Even weather changes and motion sickness can trigger them.
To fend off migraine headaches while working under bright lights, model Elle Macpherson prefers an overall health approach. "I have acupuncture regularly," she says. A 2017 study published in The Journal of the American Medical Association showed that acupuncture “significantly reduced” how often people who have migraines without auras had attacks. Acupuncture may improve mood and sleep and lessen triggers like anxiety.
Head pain sidelined former Denver Bronco Terrell Davis during the 1998 Super Bowl. "I was seeing double and triple," he says. After taking medicine, Davis scored a touchdown and was named the game's MVP. When he first started having migraine headaches, Davis didn't tell anyone. "I thought people would think I was crazy," he says. Now, he avoids foods that may trigger migraines, like chocolate, caffeine, and the food additive MSG.
Basketball legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar blames stress for his recurring head pain. Stress can cause muscles in the neck and scalp to contract, leading to tension-type and migraine headaches. Since his first migraine at age 14, Abdul-Jabbar has used a variety of stress relievers, including yoga, acupuncture, massage, and biofeedback. "You can't eliminate stress, but what I've finally been able to do is learn how to manage it," he says.
Congresswoman Michele Bachmann addressed her migraine headaches while she was on the presidential campaign trail in 2011. She said the headaches were "easily manageable with medication," and that they don't keep her from doing her job. Many people with migraine headaches eventually get one on the job. It's important to follow your doctor's advice to help prevent and treat your migraine headaches.
You may remember Susan Olsen as pigtailed Cindy Brady on The Brady Bunch. Since her Brady days, she's spoken publicly about her migraines. "When I suffered my first migraine [at age 11], my doctor kissed me on the forehead and told me I was too conscientious," Olsen says. She takes triptans to keep her headaches in check. Up to 10% of children 15 and under have been affected by migraines. Many will continue to have them as adults, too.
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- Merle Diamond, MD, president and managing director, Diamond Headache Clinic, Chicago
- Audrey Halpern, MD, director, Manhattan Center for Headache and Neurology, New York City
- Johns Hopkins Medicine
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- Journal of American Medical Association
- Linde K., et al. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2009, Issue 1
- Medline Plus
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- Paul Rizzoli, MD, neurologist, John R. Graham Headache Center, Faulkner Hospital, Boston; co-author, The Migraine Solution Stanford Headache Clinic
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