Caldermone, 74, has a long, painful history of migraine headaches. She would know
they were coming.
"I had them from the age of 12 or 13 to mid-to-late 40's," said Caldermone. "You
get eye disturbances. In my own case it's the left eye. The light goes out and
dread comes because you know what's gonna happen."
A migraine headache is a combination of symptoms that includes severe head pain,
nausea, vomiting and unusual sensitivity to light and sound. It is commonly a
result from an abnormal dilation of blood vessels in the head. There are two types.
"With aura" impairs vision, while "without aura" only occurs in 10-20 percent
Migraines are different from tension-type headaches and cluster headaches. The
pain can last from four to 72 hours and it may be aggravated by the slightest
movement or noise.
"You get a severe headache, and in my day people thought you were crazy," said
Caldermone. "They'd last two to three days, and they also had a time when they
called them cluster headaches. It was awful."
Tension-type headaches are the most common and typically occur between migraines.
They are described as a tight, squeezing pain around the back of the neck, scalp
The excruciating Cluster headaches occur in groups of repeating headaches and
are generally felt on one side of the face. They can last between 30-45 minutes.
For treatment, people have tried drinking water excessively, exercise, aromatherapy,
acupuncture and myotherapy. They have even tried exorcism. This was all before
In the past, scientific information has been rudimentary at best, but has reached
milestones and new alternatives for today's generation of migraine victims.
The ordeal can affect you multiple times during any given month. It was difficult
for Caldermone to plan her life around them.
"I would get them two to three times in a month depending on stress level. In
my case, as a divorced mother, I had a lot more stress than most," she said. "I
sort of think it affected my marriage. You don't want to be around someone with
a headache. I was raising a daughter and going to night classes, too. My father
had them as well and his mother had them."
On a typical night of an attack Caldermone and her father were both forced to
get out of bed to avoid feeling sick. The two of them tried many things to prevent
the attacks, both prescription and over-the-counter. One of them was Cafergot,
which Caldermone tried in her late twenties.
"Ergot contracted blood vessels in my head and caffeine always seemed to be a
big help," said Caldermone. "My dad took aspirin and over-the-counters which used
to scare my mother. Seidlitz aspirin would make you sicker, but the other one
was great until I couldn't tolerate it. Fiorinal didn't help either. I called
it a 'cheap drunk.' The military wouldn't have employed me if they knew about
me being a migraine victim."
Fiorinal is a potent, non-narcotic pain reliever as well as a muscle relaxant.
It is prescribed to diminish headache symptoms caused by stress or muscle contraction
in the head, neck and shoulder area. It is a combination of a non-narcotic, sedative
barbiturate (butalbital) with a pain reliever (aspirin) and a stimulant (caffeine).
Like any drug, there is a chance that users could take it in a way that would
be ineffective. It is supposed to be taken with a full glass of water immediately,
once the headache begins to keep from aggravating the stomach.
The Seidlitz aspirin was different from the aspirin we know today in that in contained
a salt that had sodium bicarbonate, Rochelle salt, and tartaric acid. Cafergot
is one of three ergotamine tartrates with caffeine. The other two are Ercaf and
Wigraine. It became less popular as time went on, because the drug produced several
unfavorable side effects.
said that when she found medicine that worked, it made her sick. "Cafergot would
leave you nervous and give you another headache. I drank more coffee when I had
The overuse of Cafergot can lead to ergot poisoning, resulting in symptoms such
as headache, pain in the legs when walking, muscle pain, numbness, coldness, and
abnormal paleness of the fingers and toes. It can even cause gangrene.
Imitrex, a selective 5-HT1 receptor, has demonstrated to be an effective treatment.
Receptors are generally found on cranial blood vessels. Imitrex acts on these
receptors, constricting human cranial arteries without affecting cerebral blood
In clinical trials, 76 percent of patients were restored to working ability in
an hour, while 85 percent were restored in two hours. Side effects included burning,
dizziness, warmth, heaviness, pressure and tingling. These can last up to 30 minutes.
Pregnant women, people with high blood pressure or anyone taking other medications
should not use Imitrex unless they have discussed it with a doctor.
When Imitrex first appeared on the migraine-treatment scene, it was taken by injection.
However, nowadays, it is most commonly taken orally or using a nasal spray.
What direction is migraine treatment headed? There are a myriad of drugs on the
market including analgesics, antihistamines and anti-emetics. There is Imigran
for severe attack relief. Diet, exercise and stress management are encouraged
before taking any medications. People can also turn towards light therapy, pillows
and other herbal medicines.
Caldermone has a very simple to solution for those who find themselves in this
predicament. She says "one of the best cures for migraines is a sense of humor."
George Goros is a senior at The College of New Jersey
and will be graduating in May with a degree in Journalism/Professional Writing.
He has spent time as a sportswriter for the Signal as well as for the sports
information department here at the College.