Q. I have suffered with “The Monster” for more than 20 years. That’s what I call my headaches. It took five years and trips to five different teaching hospitals to get a decent diagnosis. These are the most excruciating pains you can get, like a red-hot poker in your eye socket.
For most of the years, I’d inject Imitrex, and the pain would leave eventually. Imitrex is a drug I’d rather not take unless there is no other choice.
One day it caught up with me. I’d had seven attacks that day, and I called my doctor and said unless I could get help, today would be my last. I sent the same message to the Headache Clinic in Jefferson Hospital in Philadelphia. They apparently took me seriously. The next day I had an appointment with Dr. Stephen Silberstein, the chief headache guru.
I was diagnosed with cluster headaches and prescribed verapamil for prevention and oxygen with a rebreather mask for treatment.
Amazingly, the first time I used the oxygen, the headache was gone in several minutes. It was the first real relief I had gotten in years. That was 10 years ago. What I almost killed myself over has now become nothing more than a nuisance that occasionally wakes me up at night with bad pain.
I am never without my oxygen. I keep a portable tank with me wherever I go. Insurance doesn’t cover it, but I bought my own regulator, and I rent a D tank of oxygen for about $10. It lasts me about 20 treatments.
The symptoms are so unique that cluster headaches shouldn’t be mistaken for anything else, but I was diagnosed at various times with trigeminal neuralgia, sinus condition and (best of all) PSYCHOSOMATIC pain. Please educate the medical profession so more people don’t end up suicides.
A. Your story really points out the importance of a correct diagnosis. Patients and doctors need to work together to get that right so the proper treatment can be found.
Q. When directions for medicine say take with food, do I take it before I eat anything, or at midmeal or following the meal?
A. Unless there are instructions to the contrary (such as “take 30 minutes before eating”), a medicine to be taken with food can be taken at any point in the meal. The idea is to reduce stomach irritation and, for some drugs, improve absorption.
Q. I am 55 and suffering with vaginal dryness that makes intercourse very painful. I rarely have any more hot flashes, just once in a while.
I have tried prescriptions and herbs with no relief. So far, bioidentical creams haven’t made a noticeable difference. Do I have to live like this for the rest of my life?
A. Vaginal dryness can make sexual relations difficult, but there are several approaches that might help. Your doctor could prescribe Estring, a vaginal ring that releases low-dose estrogen over a three-month period.
If you prefer to avoid estrogen, lubricants may be helpful. They range from Astroglide to Sylk. Even olive or coconut oil can ease dryness if applied daily.
We are sending you our Guide to Menopause with other solutions for hot flashes and vaginal dryness. Anyone who would like a copy, please send $3 in check or money order with a long (No. 10), stamped (61 cents), self-addressed envelope to: Graedons’ People’s Pharmacy, No. W-50, P.O. Box 52027, Durham, NC 27717-2027. It also can be downloaded for $2 from our Web site: www.peoplespharmacy.com.