After Years of Suffering, I Got to the Root of My Migraine Attacks and Am Finally Free of Them


As told to Nicole Audrey Spector

It started right after I graduated from law school. Piercing pain — not a throb but a shooting knife from one side of my head down to my shoulder. Sometimes it was so bad I’d throw up. Sometimes I’d be bedridden in darkness for days, wide awake in agony.

I’d be unable to function and unable to fake my way through it. And the searing, blinding pain was totally unpredictable. At times, it would start when I was driving. I got used to traveling with ice packs – but it wasn’t always possible, especially in the warmer weather. When I didn’t have ice packs available, and it was cooler outside, I would often lean my temple against the cold window or have the air conditioning blasting onto my head until I could get home. These episodes happened about three times a month.

At first, I thought these overwhelming storms of head pain, fatigue and nausea were the result of sinus headaches. Then I thought perhaps they were stress-related, but that idea was confusing. If they were caused by stress, why hadn’t I experienced them during law school — one of the most stressful times of my life? Then I wondered if they were triggered by my intense exercise routine, but I had been athletic for too many years without these painful headaches — so why would intense exercise cause them now?

That was an important question: Why now?

The doctors I met with (ENTs and neurologists) kept prescribing me nasal sprays and pain pills. But none fixed the problem.

Finally, I got so sick of the crushing pain and days spent in a blacked out bedroom that I did some research on my own and figured out what I was experiencing.

Migraine attacks.

I read that one effective way to prevent migraine attacks is to find out what is causing them. Food and alcohol, for example, can be common triggers. Dedicated to determining what foods or beverages could be at the root of my migraine attacks, I started keeping a food diary.

Not only did the food diary help me organize my diet and track what I consumed, it helped me stay sane and feel more in control of my situation. And I was motivated. I had two children (remarkably, my migraine attacks paused during both pregnancies) and I really wanted to be there for them in a complete and wholly functional way.

So often my life was disrupted by the overwhelming migraines. I’d have to cancel plans, birthday parties, weddings … but the worst part was feeling like I was letting down my kids. During the days-long attacks, they’d be forced to dress themselves and bring me buckets to vomit in and fresh ice packs to hold against my head. My children had to grow up fast in this regard, and I felt enormous guilt over it.

2022, Teresa enjoys a visit to a winery with her children and their significant others. 2022, Teresa enjoys a visit to a winery with her children and their significant others.

By keeping a food diary, I could write down all the ingredients I’d consumed that day and consider what to eliminate for the next several days. For a while, I thought dairy was the cause, but even when I cut that out entirely, the migraine attacks persisted.

Finding a common thread was hard. Ingredients weren’t as obviously listed on food products back then. It took a lot of experimenting, but eventually (and honestly, I don’t remember how) I figured out the root cause of the migraine attacks: casein, a protein found in milk that is in a variety of products that may or may not have trace amounts of dairy in them, including some cold cuts and even white wine.

I went for years without casein, which was a real bummer because it made my diet so strict, and deprived me of my beloved dairy products and my oh-so-precious white wine. But it was also a miracle. For the first time in so many years, I was migraine-free.

In or around 2021 — four or so years after I’d quit casein — I saw a neurologist to discuss whether there were any treatments that I could undergo that would allow me to get back to my normal, preferred diet. She offered me a medicine designed to prevent migraine attacks

The medication, which I take in the form of monthly injections, has been a lifesaver. I can now eat and drink whatever I want, no matter how much casein it contains. After more than three decades of suffering from and trying to combat migraine attacks, I am free of them entirely. And I am free of all the guilt they’d caused me, all the sorrow and disappointment.

I urge other women who are experiencing migraine attacks to never quit trying to determine the cause. And never think for a second that this is how your life is meant to be. Never succumb. Don’t accept a prognosis saying “It’s hereditary — learn how to live with it …” It doesn’t have to be this way. Usually, there is a cause for everything.

Be resilient, be persistent, and be your own best friend through this process. You’ve got this.

This educational resource was created with support from Pfizer.

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Our Real Women, Real Stories are the authentic experiences of real-life women. The views, opinions and experiences shared in these stories are not endorsed by HealthyWomen and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of HealthyWomen.

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