Friday, July 23, 2010

Bipolar and Other Brain Disorders - Cluster Headaches, Migraines, Seizures

Sorry, I've been absent from this blog. After my last post I've had some health issues - not related to my bipolar disorder. Actually, somewhat related as it is a temporal lobe problem - which is thought to be in the same region as some of the bipolar issues. At the end of May I woke up with the worst pain I've ever had in my life. It felt like my head would explode. I thought it was the worst migraine I'd ever had.

So I took some Excedrin migraine. That didn't work. I called my doctor and got her to call in a prescription for Imitrex. I took one. It didn't work. I waited and took the second dose. I seriously began to think I was going to die. It would get better and then would come back hours later. It was intense. I have never felt so much pain ever. I've broken bones, I had a baby, nothing compared to this.

And so early in the morning my doctor told me to go to the ER. So I called 911 and got an ambulance trip to the hospital. I had a CT scan. Nothing. They gave me pain killers. And then of course since I'm bipolar for some reason they thought I needed a psych consult. The psychiatrist once he saw me immediately discharged me and said I was fine and I needed to see a neurologist.

In the next 3 days (this was over the weekend) I went to the hospital a total of 4 times. I eventually had a spinal tap and other testing which was all normal. And eventually got into a neurologist and was diagnosed with cluster headaches. Cluster headaches (nicknamed "suicide headaches") are a rare type of headache that are said to be the most painful medical condition known to man. Lucky me.

My migraines which were in remission for years have returned and I'm getting tension headaches regularly too. Severe headaches are like bipolar disorder the can be in remission for years and then can be triggered.

The cluster headaches were like clockwork. Within 45 minutes to 1 hour of going to sleep I'd wake up with the most intense pain I'd ever felt. Needless to say I started to fear going to sleep - which of course for an insomniac is bad business.

To stop the cluster I was post on a 6 day cycle of steroids which of course carry a strong warning not to give to people with mood disorders or insomnia. (Hmmm....) So then I had to go on zyprexa. In the two weeks I gained 25 pounds. Luckily the zyprexa kept me from getting completely manic.

I'm stable now. I'm on Topamax for the headaches (interesting that an off-label use is also bipolar disorder).

Anyway, I really like my new neurologist. One thing I like is she thinks all of these things are at their root related. The bipolar disorder, the headaches, the family history of seizures, Huntington's, etc. I just have faulty brain wiring.

But more importantly - she's not a drug pusher. Drugs are just one part of my treatment. Another part is self-care. It's working on the stress and sleep through meditation and acupuncture. It's eating right and exercise. All things I believe work for keeping me mentally healthy will also keep the headaches at bay.

Another interesting thing ... the number one treatment during the acute attack of a cluster headache - oxygen. And so at 31 I am like an old person. I have an oxygen tank next to my bed. When I have a headache I reach for my oxygen mask. Amazingly within 10 minutes it can reduce the headache - no medicine can take away the headache like that.

Oxygen therapy is good for migraines too ... it doesn't completely take them away but it does lessen them.

And finally a good website for medication information - The Good Bad & Funny About Neurological Medications

Beware it may make you laugh or cry.


Anonymous said...

Glad to see you back and sorry for all you've gone through - sounds awful.

Unknown said...

Thank you. On a positive note - the upside is it has made me more committed to leading the positive lifestyle that I know makes a difference. Exercise, diet, vitamins alternative medicine (acupuncture), stress reduction.

I just wish I didn't have to go through a health crisis and an expensive one to boot in order to get the reminder.

Elizabeth-Ann said...

I don't know if you still take Topamax but it is extremely bad for you. I am bipolar and was prescribed Topamax 2 or 3 years ago. Only after starting with a new psycho-pharmacologist did I find that there is a rather serious 'Black Box' warning for this drug.

You may consider speaking to your doctor because the slew of side-effects to your physical health are rather daunting i.e. kidney stones, glaucoma and liver failure. As someone who has taken most every possible drug and combo of them I can tell you there are plenty of substitutes for Topamax.

Unknown said...

Hi Elizabeth-Ann,

I am still on Topamax. The benefits outweigh the potential side effects right now ... I hope to try and go off of it in the next 6-12 months. I cannot function with the cluster headaches or severe migraines. And for now it helps tremendously.

If you read package inserts or drug company websites pretty much any drug that targets the brain you will find a number of bothersome side effects and warnings. There are really only two daily medications that are used to treat cluster headaches - Topamax and Lithium. Other classes of medications like Topamax do not work for cluster headaches.

Some neurologist try other medications, but those are the standards. Both have there pros and cons. The amount of medication used for cluster headache treatment is less than what is typically used for psychiatric use or epilepsy.

All medications that target the brain have a number of troublesome physical health issues. Depakote, Lithium, Lamictal, Zyprexa none of these drugs is without serious side effects that some people get.

Anonymous said...

There has been several studies that show that the three (epilepsy, bipolar and migraine) are closely related and may all actually be a form of seizure