Patient Blogs | Migraine
What it's Like to Go to the ER With Migraine
photo of doctor putting oximeter on woman's finger

It all started with a headache that felt like someone was drilling into my skull. The pain was so bad that I couldn't even stand to have the light on in the room. I tried every over-the-counter medication I could find, but the pain remained. I was nauseated and lightheaded and was seriously struggling to function. This went on for over a week.

I was working as a producer in network news at the time. I knew something was seriously wrong, but for some reason, I always tried to fight through the pain alone. Finally, I ended up calling my mother, telling her about my situation. She flew into town immediately to take me to the hospital.

When you arrive at the hospital, you will most likely receive an IV with nausea meds and fluids if needed. I received an MRI and CT scan so they could be sure nothing else was going on with me. They wanted to eliminate the possibility of a brain tumor. This was critical since, at this time, I didn’t have a history of migraine, and my symptoms surfaced suddenly, out of the blue.

When Should You Go to the ER for a Migraine?

Some people with migraines experience stroke-like symptoms (and sometimes hide actual brain-damaging neurological events). Others are unable to hold liquids down, which leads to dehydration. Some people experience temporary blindness and mild cognitive impairment.

There really is no right or wrong answer; since everyone's threshold is so different, it's really up to you.

If you feel it's unbearable, or it has lasted too long, and it's interfering with your daily activities, go to the ER. Remember, there are no gold medals for dealing with the pain Olympics.

Be aware that the ER is bright and loud. It may feel worse before they can make it better, but I've never been sent home without pain relief.

My rule of thumb is if it is "different than usual," see a doctor. We know how our migraine episodes make us feel. So if something feels different or “off,” it's probably worth getting it checked out.

Why Don't Some Migraine Warriors Like Going to the Hospital?

Different ERs handle things differently. I've heard my fair share of horror stories about people who weren’t believed or treated like addicts trying to get pain medication. Thankfully, I’ve never had that experience. I was treated well when I went, and while I've heard that some people had to wait for hours, I was admitted immediately. I am beyond thankful for my treatment. I received morphine, strong IV pain meds, and other migraine meds to try to stop the excruciating pain.

Migraine episodes aren’t just painful; they can be life-threatening if they aren’t appropriately addressed. So please don’t feel guilty about your circumstances. And don’t try and be a superhero. If you're experiencing severe pain over an extended period of time, don't hesitate to go to the hospital. In the end, you could be saving your own life.

Tap into a community of fellow migraineurs on Facebook. Learn, share, connect in our Migraine Support Community.



Photo Credit: Wavebreakmedia / iStock via Getty Images Plus

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Naki Carter

Naki Carter

Diagnosed since 2001

For nearly 20 years, Naki Carter has been living with migraine. Formerly an award-winning journalist, she is committed to ending the stigma around the invisible illness. Carter lives in South Florida near lots of family and friends, where she enjoys a daily dose of “vitamin sea.” Follow her on Twitter and Instagram.

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