I Finally Figured Out What Was Causing My Migraines

as told to Nicole Audrey Spector

It all started right after I graduated from law school. Stabbing pain: not a throb but a stabbing knife from the side of my head to my shoulder. Sometimes it was so bad that I would vomit. Sometimes I would stay bedridden in the dark for days, wide awake in agony.

I would be unable to function and I wouldn’t be able to fake my way through it. And the searing, blinding pain was totally unpredictable. Sometimes it would start while driving. I got used to traveling with ice packs, but it wasn’t always possible, especially when it was hot. When I didn’t have ice packs available and it was cooler outside, I would often rest my temple against the cold window or have the air conditioning on full blast over my head until I could get home. These episodes occurred approximately three times a month.

At first, I thought these overwhelming storms of headache, fatigue, and nausea were the result of sinus headaches. Then I thought maybe they were stress related, but that idea was confusing to me. If they were caused by stress, why hadn’t I experienced them during law school, one of the most stressful times of my life? I later wondered if they were caused by my intense exercise routine, but I had played sports for many years without these painful headaches; So why would intense exercise cause them now?

That was an important question: Because right now?

The doctors I met with (ENTs and neurologists) kept prescribing me nasal sprays and pain relievers. But none of them solved the problem.

Finally, I got so tired of the crushing pain and days spent in a dark room that I did some research on my own and found out what I was experiencing.

Migraine attacks.

I read that an effective way to prevent migraine attacks is to find out what causes them. Food and alcohol, for example, can be common triggers. Dedicated to determining what foods or drinks could be the cause of my migraine attacks, I began keeping a food diary.

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

Very often my life was disrupted by overwhelming migraines. I would have to cancel plans, birthday parties, weddings… but the worst thing was feeling like I was letting my children down. During attacks that lasted several days, they were forced to dress themselves and bring me vomit buckets and fresh ice packs to place against my head. My children had to grow up quickly in this sense and I felt enormous guilt about it.

2022, Teresa enjoys a visit to a winery with her children and loved ones.

By keeping a food diary, you could write down all the ingredients you had consumed that day and consider what to eliminate over the next few days. For a while, I thought dairy was the cause, but even when I eliminated it completely, the migraine attacks persisted.

Finding a common thread was difficult. Back then, ingredients were not so clearly listed on food products. It took a lot of experimentation, but eventually (and honestly, I don’t remember how) I discovered the root cause of migraine attacks: casein, a protein found in milk and found in a variety of products that may or may not contain traces of dairy, including some sausages and even white wine.

I went for years without casein, which was a real bummer because it made my diet very strict and deprived me of my beloved dairy products and my much-prized white wine. But it was also a miracle. For the first time in so many years, I didn’t have migraines.

Around 2021, about four years after quitting casein, I visited a neurologist to see if there was any treatment I could undergo that would allow me to return to my preferred normal diet. He offered me a medication designed to prevent migraine attacks.

The medication, which I take in the form of monthly injections, has saved my life. Now I can eat and drink whatever I want, no matter how much casein it contains. After more than three decades of suffering and trying to combat migraine attacks, I am completely free of them. And I am free from all the guilt they had caused me, from all the pain and disappointment.

I urge other women who are experiencing migraine attacks to never stop trying to determine the cause. And never think for a second that this is how your life should be. Never succumb. Don’t accept a prognosis that says, “It’s hereditary; learn to live with it…” It does not have to be this way. Generally, everything has a cause.

Be resilient, persistent and be your best friend during this process. You have this.


This educational resource was created with the support of Pfizer.

Do you have any real women, real stories of your own that you want to share? let us know.

Our Real Women, Real Stories are 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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