From Down For The Count To Mastering Migraine Management
How a young woman’s long-term relationship with her primary care provider leads to better chronic disease management.
Emma Hull was just 10 years old when she experienced her first migraine. She knew it was not just a headache after watching her mother endure chronic migraines throughout her childhood. But it wasn’t until she experienced the throbbing head pain herself that Emma realized how this neurological disease can disrupt daily life.
“It usually started with me feeling tired or groggy, then got worse when I began to feel pain above one eye. The migraines could really take a toll on me, to the point where I often couldn’t put my best foot forward.”
For the approximately 10 percent of children ages 5 to 15 who get migraines, the pain is severe enough to keep them from attending school, enjoying activities, and being at their best. Emma knows this first-hand, as she experienced three or four migraines per week for years.
“I was a little girl, still growing up with all of my friends who didn’t really experience a major health issue like mine,” says Emma. “They kind of just went along and did their thing, while I wasn’t able to play as much or enjoy sleepovers. I’d either be picked up early or wake up the next day and just be down for the count.”
This pattern continued into her teenage years, as the self-proclaimed go-getter and people person could not spend time as much time as she wanted with friends nor participate in activities at Canon-McMillan High School. Emma explains, “Things were so bad during my teenage years that I would have to call off work or miss school. Which is hard when you’re growing up, because you don’t want to miss the little things or the major milestones.”
Though Emma received an early medical diagnosis based on her symptoms and family history, she felt like she was only able to begin effectively managing her chronic migraines after seeing Lauren H. Ayersman, DO, for primary care starting in 2019. The whole family actually began seeing Dr. Ayersman at that time and have stayed with her as she transitioned to St. Clair Medical Group Family Medicine earlier this year.
“As a family practitioner, we get to see everybody. I think caring for every member of the family gives me an advantage, as it gives me more insight into their lives outside of the office and how what’s going on in their lives could be tied into some of the symptoms they exhibit,” says Dr. Ayersman.
“I try to approach the patient as a whole as opposed to just dealing with the symptoms. It’s about listening to the patient, asking a lot of questions, and being present,” she continues. “I get to know them on both a medical and personal level to determine how I can best care for them.”
Because Emma is young and chronic migraines are a lifelong condition, Dr. Ayersman focused not only on management but also prevention of migraines. She explains, “Emma’s diagnosis is intractable migraines without aura, meaning there are no warning signs to tell her a migraine is coming. It kind of just hits her. So we worked to identify what could potentially be triggering her migraines.”
“Everyone has different triggers, but lighting and smells are a huge thing for me. I can also get really bad migraines during the summer because of the heat or when I have a drink with a lot of sugar and caffeine,” Emma says.
After better understanding her triggers, Dr. Ayersman initially recommended Emma make lifestyle changes such as increasing water intake and finding ways to better manage stress, which have led to better sleep. She also suggested Emma begin taking magnesium and riboflavin supplements that have been shown in research to help with migraines.
Dr. Ayersman says, “I’m really upfront with my patients. I tell them what I suggest, while emphasizing that they won’t notice much difference if they aren’t motivated to take control of their health and participate in it. Physicians are partners in their patient’s care, so the patient has to hold up their part in order to thrive.”
So that’s just what Emma did. She cut out the drinks with sugar and caffeine, among other things, to try to kick her migraines before they got started. And Emma didn’t hesitate to talk with Dr. Ayersman when the lifestyle changes, supplements, and current treatments were no longer enough to manage her migraines. She began taking new medication to inhibit a migraine attack and control symptoms, while seeing a neurologist to make sure there was nothing else going on with her brain.
“Dr. Ayersman did everything she could to treat my migraines before referring me to a specialist, which is why I will always go back to her,” Emma reveals. “She knows me and my health concerns like the back of her hand, so I know she can give me the best advice. I trust Dr. Ayersman to tell me that any medication or treatment is both helpful and safe since I’m still growing into adulthood.”
Emma continues, “Dr. Ayersman really set me on track to stop migraines before they even start so I can just not even worry about it. We’ve taken it from three to four migraines to one migraine per week, or two if I’m unlucky. And when there is a migraine now, it’s not as bad as it may have been before.”
Reducing the frequency and severity of her chronic migraines has enabled Emma to be more present in her daily life and do more than she ever has before. Emma is proud to have earned straight A’s during her first semester at Westminster College, while participating in several campus activities. The sophomore is now a leader with student organizations such as the Alpha Epsilon Chapter of Alpha Gamma Delta and the Public Relations Student Society of America (PRSSA).
When she isn’t busy excelling inside and outside the college classroom, Emma enjoys running with friends or searching for the next book to speed-read. She appreciates that reading allows her to go on a journey without moving her feet. But that doesn’t mean she doesn’t love to travel as well!
“I went to Cancun, Mexico last summer—that was my first international trip—and I’m hoping to study abroad in London next year. I really just want to see the world,” says Emma. “Time is so limited when traveling, so it’s essential that I’m feeling one hundred percent, one hundred percent of the time.”
Emma hasn’t been everywhere yet, but it’s on her list. And she will be able to satisfy her wanderlust thanks to the personalized care she has received from Dr. Ayersman and her care team. Whether traveling the world or away at college, Emma and Dr. Ayersman can continue to check in and adapt her care plan as needed thanks to telemedicine visits and their enduring partnership.
“I started treating Emma in high school, and now she has transitioned to college. It’s been nice to see her progress over the years and watch her become the young woman she is today,” says Dr. Ayersman. “She’s at a good place right now, trying to be proactive and preventive, as opposed to being reactive with her migraines.”
Emma adds, “I’ve known Dr. Ayersman since I was younger, and she has helped me through my migraines and so much more as I’ve grown up. I’m planning to continue seeing her as an adult because she genuinely cares about her patients, and I value the one-on-one partnership we’ve built over the years.”
Lauren H. Ayersman, DO
Dr. Ayersman is board certified by the American Board of Family Medicine. She earned her medical degree from the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine (PCOM) before completing both her internship and residency at PCOM/Lehigh Valley Health Network. Dr. Ayersman practices with St. Clair Medical Group. To contact Dr. Ayersman, please visit stclair.org/ayersman/ or call 412.942.8570.