PTSD, Anxiety, and Migraine

By Steven Workman

An Inconvenient Combination of Symptoms

Any of these conditions can be overwhelming all on their own. Dealing just with PTSD has such a wide variety of side effects, that it would be difficult to define them all in one article. For my purposes, I will focus on the symptoms that affect my daily life in the most prominent ways.

Memory Loss and Mood Swings

I have lost count of the number of times I have been able to hear it in my wife’s voice–the irritation when she has to answer, yet again, a question I have asked her multiple times.

Occasionally, I have asked or she has had to explain things multiple times in the same day. While it is stressful to her, it is also mind-numbingly stressful to me. Most often, I remember asking the question before, or I remember that she has explained it to me. I simply can’t remember the answer. I am also horrible with names.

On any given day, my personal mood ranges from calm and easy-go-lucky, to a strong desire yell and scream, even the urge to be violent at times. I have heard from different sources including medical professionals that there is really no clear answer as to pain and anxiety having links to migraine, or whether the migraine causes an increase in other pain or increased anxiety. It seems to me that they are all a part of a vicious cycle. I feel as though they all feed off of each other in some way.

Migraine and its Evolution in My Life

I began having migraine episodically while I was still deployed as an infantry soldier in Iraq. At the time, I associated it with 155mm artillery being fired throughout each day less than 200 feet away from my bunk, daily IEDs, incoming rockets, mortars, and small arms fire from contact with the enemy.

That is certainly where the tinnitus comes from, which is the ringing in my ears that is so intense for me to sit in an absolutely silent room; it is perhaps the loudest thing in the world. Once I was evacuated out of theater for other medical conditions, the migraines became more frequent, but still very much remained episodic.

I tried going back to school using my GI Bill after I was discharged from active duty service in 2006. I developed tension migraine (according to my primary care doctor at the time), for which I was initially prescribed Fioricet.

When the recurrence of my migraine became more frequent (4-5 times per month) my medication was changed to Imitrex. My doctor had me on 200mg by the time we got the migraine under control. If I was caught off guard without my medication, I could come into my doctor’s office for a shot. All I had to do was let them know why I was there, and as soon as they had an empty room, I would be taken to the back and given an injection of Demoral right there on the spot. There were no questions and no hassles or arguments. My guess would be that my doctor was someone who personally suffered the occasional migraine herself and was familiar with its debilitating effects, although admittedly I never asked.

Evolution of the Recurrence of Migraine

Between 2004 and 2009, my migraine experience was well-defined as episodic, with me never suffering more than four or five in any given month. Fast forward a few years to 2017 and it is like looking at a completely different patient.

I have had as many as 15 migraines during a one month period, averaging 7 or 8 on most months, and 4-6 on great months. Most recently however, I have had 5 migraines within a 3 week period. At face value that doesn’t seem so bad I suppose, except for the fact that 3 of the 5 came over a 4 day period, followed by another about 3 days later. From that perspective, 4 migraines over 7 days was pretty rough, at least for me.

The more pain I am in, the more drastic my mood changes. I become snippy with my wife (which is terrible considering I am her primary caregiver here at home). I am also on edge with my co-workers which is problematic for obvious reasons.

Closing Thoughts:

What are your thoughts on the connections between anxiety, mood swings and migraine? Do you find that any one, over another, contributes more or less to how your days play out? More importantly, do you think there is a way to gauge the mood and anxiety symptoms to help anticipate when another migraine may strike?

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