Migraine Doesn’t Stop Doctor From Completing Ironman 70.3 Competition

Migraine Doesn’t Stop Doctor From Completing Ironman 70.3 Competition

By Katie Golden

A Half Ironman, also known as an Ironman 70.3, consists of a 1.2 mile swim, 56 mile bike ride and 13.1 mile run – 70.3 miles in total. On the morning of a grueling competition such as this, the last thing anyone would want is to have a migraine attack. Dr. Susan Hutchinson was faced with this reality as she prepared for the Ironman 70.3. As a migraine sufferer and a certified headache specialist, she knew this could ruin her chance to compete. So Dr. Hutchinson took a medicine that stops her migraine symptoms, and within 30 minutes all signs of the migraine attack disappeared. She not only knocked out her migraine, she knocked out her competition, placing first in her age group!

The road to get here has not been easy. Dr. Hutchinson had her own practice in general medicine when she started experiencing what she thought were sinus headaches or just “bad” headaches in her mid-30s. After years of not treating her headaches, she decided to start carrying a migraine medication in her purse to try if an episode occurred again. When she started getting nauseous, feeling sensitive to light and sound during a conference, she decided to see what this migraine medication would do. Surprising to her, it helped to reduce her headache. That’s when she realized she had finally diagnosed herself as a migraine patient.

In medical school, students average only four hours of training in headache and migraine medicine. There are roughly 520 practitioners who specialize in this field, or one doctor for every 69,000 of the 36 million migraine sufferers in the U.S. Due to lack of training, it’s no wonder that Dr. Hutchinson, a family doctor, did not recognize the symptoms she had for years as being part of a migraine attack.

Dr. Hutchinson’s new revelation that she was a migraine patient sent her on a new path in her medical and personal life. She decided to take on extra training in headache and migraine medicine and became a certified headache specialist. Soon after, she opened the Orange County Migraine & Headache Center in Irvine, CA. Her practice specializes in hormonal or menstrual migraines. Dr. Hutchinson has even written two books on the subject.

On her long migraine journey, Dr. Hutchinson has realized that exercise is an important factor in controlling her migraine symptoms. She started slow and cautious because exercise can sometimes spark migraine attacks. Over the years of training she gained strength in swimming and cycling. This year her goal was to complete an Ironman 70.3 for her 60th birthday. Quite a feat for someone who had a migraine as she prepared that morning for the competition.

When I asked her how she got through a migraine attack before the Half Ironman, she said “Treximet.” Treximet is a drug taken at the onset of a migraine and is referred to as an abortive medication. Treximet is the only fixed-dose combination of sumatriptan and naproxen sodium indicated to treat acute migraine attacks with or without aura. (Dr. Hutchinson works with the manufacturer of Treximet to build awareness, but she is not a paid spokesperson for the medicine.)

In a study of the efficacy rates of different abortive migraine drugs that contain sumatriptan (such as Imitrex, Maxalt and Zomig), it was found that due to the additional pain relieving properties present in Treximet, it is superior to competitors “in terms of resulting in more patients being pain-free at 2 hours, having sustained freedom from pain at 24 hours, and improving normal functioning, overall productivity, and patient satisfaction.” (Dean, Laura. “Comparing Triptans.” National Center for Biotechnology Information. U.S. National Library of Medicine, 01 Oct. 2010. Web. 30 Nov. 2016.)

While the class of triptan medicines is an effective abortive treatment for many migraine sufferers, there are some patients that experience no relief from any of the many triptan versions. This is why it is important for patients to work with their physicians to properly diagnose migraines and explore diverse treatment options to find what will work best for them as individuals.

Beyond medicines, Dr. Hutchinson believes that every migraine patient should incorporate some form of exercise into their daily routine. Take baby steps. Tell others about your new fitness goals so you have accountability. Break down exercise into three or four separate intervals of 10 minutes of activity done throughout the day. For example, take a walk in the morning, do squats at your desk after lunch, practice yoga before going to bed. Dr. Hutchinson says, “I leave my stress at the bottom of the swimming pool.”

As a patient and a headache specialist, Dr. Hutchinson knows how powerful medicines, exercise and other treatment options are to help migraineurs. With so few headache specialists for the vast numbers of migraine sufferers, it is vital that migraine patients take the lead in discussing treatment options with their providers to find what allows them to be Iron Men and Women.

Katie Golden lives in Southern California. She is a member of the American Headache and Migraine Alliance (AHMA), the National Headache Foundation and the US Pain Foundation and community moderator for Migraine.com.

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Authored by: Katie Golden

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Kathy C

Read Between The Lines. The Readers should start asking why some of these “Articles” are gettign posted on these sites. This one is particularity misleading, but we will be seeing this float around the Media. It has all of the Elements. The Motivational Story, 60 year old woman who happens to be a doctor running Marathons. One of the Themes so common in the Media. It seems harmless, promoting exercise, and physical fitness. She has migraines and here she is running a Marathon. The Media loves these narratives. The always leave out the support necessary to run these. One needs a level of financial resources and support system to even consider this. Just the ability to take time off of work without repercussions to recover is a luxury most of us don’t have, even if we could physically do a marathon. There is always a catch, a sneaky hook em narrative, with overcoming adversity, the motivational theme. They then put in some facts, the number of Doctors specializing in Migraines, apparently not enough. Then a little personal journey information, with another interesting narrative, the good Doctor like so many others had little Medical School training in Headaches. No context or background here, because this is light inspirational reading. The Theme is facing obstacles, and overcoming them through perseverance and hard work. Then the Author goes on to the pharmaceutical Industry plug. The rest of this Article is just window dressing for the product. The word that bothered me was “Superior” this Author used the word superior to describe the product. The Article claims that Imitrex is superior to the other “triptans.” If it is “Superior” why are there people still experiencing Migraines? A light reading of this would mean there is a cure for Migraines, the friends i know with Migraines are either uninformed or suffering needlessly. Surely if there is a “Superior” treatment out there, why are they still dealing with Migraines? Out of curiosity I follow the Link to the NIH Publication and as I skim that my eyes stumble on the word “Superior.” The Combination with Naproxen( A pain reliever) is superior to the triptan alone. This is very misleading, and a tactic for Pharmaceutical industry Advertising. They have found a way to extend Patent Protection, by combining Medications, and relabeling them. They then Market them as a “New” drug. This has nothing to do with effectiveness of the drug, or “Superior” results. This is merely a Marketing and Patent Protection tactic. They can then market this “new” combination as just short of a “Breakthrough.” They mislead the Doctors, and the public with these Advertising tactics. The “New” Imitrex is just a combination of the old drug a triptan, with an over the counter pain reliever Naproxen. Certainly people with Migraines have been using these combinations for years. In the 1980s the combination was Aspirin and Caffeine. These “Articles” need to be evaluated critically, since no one is evaluating them. The Pharmaceutical Companies have access to the… Read more »


First of all, wow, the Ironman is an amazing accomplishment. Even a Half Ironman.
However, this is the article that would (if I were still in the workplace) be anonymously (and quite rudely) taped to my computer screen so that it would be the first thing that I saw when I came into the office in the morning. The unspoken message: This person completed the freaking Ironman & you called in sick with another one of your “migraines”, says right here that “lots” of people take this medicine to get theirs under control…. Although I’d never heard of the med in question. And I don’t use triptipans, or anything that suffixes with pan as it would interact with other stuff.
Just like I also found a similar article taped to said computer screen (not hypothetically, but actually taped) when a woman with fibromyalgia swam the English Channel.
It makes me feel torn. On one hand, I like a human interest piece, especially an underdog story. Especially an woman beating the odds. On the other hand, I really hate someone making me look like a malingering lazybones…
Just my two cents for which no one particularly asked.


I suffered with “migraine” headaches for years, fom my early teens. I am now in my sixties. None of the medications for migraine worked for me, jn fact they made them immediately much worse. Sometimes they would last for weeks on end. When I was in my forties I was desperately looking for something to help with the debilitating symptoms I am told are from fibromyalgia. Once again none of the “normal” treatments gave me any relief and often made the symptoms much worse. Finally in desperation my doctor put me on fairly heavy dose of fentanyl patches and to my joy the fibromyalgia symptoms were greatly reduced! Soon I realized that a wonderful side effect was that I was no longer having the debilitating headaches I had fought for years and I had a good portion of my life back! After almost a decade of relief the axe fell on my life when the CDC in all their self proclaimed glory decided that opiates, especially fentanyl, don’t work for chronic pain and my years of relief ended with the SEVERE reduction of y medication. The migraine variant headaches are back, tho being left with a very low dose of fentanyl are fewer than without this miracle medication. My quality of life is severely restricted. I wish that I could get relief from anything else but as my grandmother would say “If wishes were horses then beggers would ride”! I would like to thank the powers that be at the CDC for this but I am in too much pain for that!