Elizabeth Hogan first started getting migraines in high school.
By her 30s, Hogan, a Miami Realtor, was getting the debilitating headaches up to five days a week. She spent most of her time in a dark, silent bedroom with an ice pack on her head. Hogan found herself canceling outings with friends, putting off seeing her boyfriend and answering work emails during the few hours she was able to get out of bed. Luckily, as a luxury residential real estate agent, Hogan was able to make her own schedule and could still support herself, and friends and her boyfriend were understanding.
Hogan tried various remedies, including a medication called Zomig, but that proved a temporary solution — the headache would return even worse when the medicine wore off.
“I felt hopeless,’’ Hogan said.
Then she found Dr. Allan Herskowitz, chief of neurology at Baptist Hospital, who started treating Hogan with carefully targeted Botox shots in her neck and head. Now, Hogan’s migraines have diminished to twice a month.
“This has really been life-changing,’’ said Hogan, 44. “I will probably have migraines for the rest of my life, they run in my family. But I am dramatically better. Dr. Herskowitz gave me my life back.’’
Hogan is one of thousands of migraine sufferers who have benefitted from what they are calling the migraine wonder drug of the decade: Botox. The drug, which was just approved by the FDA in 2010, is only used for major migraine sufferers, those who are not helped by medications and lifestyle changes and suffer from the headaches at least 10 to 15 days a month. But for those victims, the drug has proven to be life-changing, causing patients to shower their doctors with prayers, thanks and tears of gratitude.
“I’m set for life,’’ said Dr. Teshamae Monteith, a headache specialist at the University of Miami. “My patients say, ‘I pray for you, God bless you.’ It’s almost shocking to me how grateful they are. It’s like they came back from the dead.’’
Migraines, which come from the Greek word Hemikrania, or “pain on one side of the head,’’ have plagued many historical figures, including Thomas Jefferson, painters Vincent Van Gogh and Claude Monet, authors Virginia Woolf and Lewis Carroll, Julius Caesar, Napoleon, Ulysses S. Grant, Robert E. Lee, Mary Todd Lincoln, Sigmund Freud, philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, and entertainers Elvis Presley and Elizabeth Taylor. Experts estimate that 15 percent of the population is affected by migraines at some time.
Migraines differ from tension and garden-variety headaches in that the pounding pain is typically accompanied by nausea, vomiting and an “aura,” or sensory disturbance that can signal the onset. The headaches are exacerbated by light and noise, which is why most sufferers recover in a dark, silent room. About two-thirds of cases run in families, and two to three times as many women suffer from them than men. While the exact cause of migraines are unknown, hormones and heredity are thought to be critical factors. Thankfully, doctors say they appear to disappear as people age.
Once doctors diagnose a person with migraines, they start by treating them prophylatically, with medications like triptans or ergot. Some doctors ask patients to keep a lifestyle diary, noting what they eat and drink, their sleep habits and stress levels.