Kristin Chenoweth Opens up About ‘Excruciating’ Chronic Migraines & the Treatment That Helped

Kristin Chenoweth got her first migraine at age 25, and she remembers it vividly. The Broadway legend was onstage performing at the Virginia Symphony, “singing my face off,” she tells SheKnows. Then, about halfway through Act One, “I started seeing flashing lights like an aura. It was almost like the spotlight started it.”

Then came the nausea and the pounding headache, “like a jackhammer on my head.” When the curtain came down for intermission, Chenoweth vomited and had to be helped to her room by the conductor. She made it through Act Two “by the grace of God,” Chenoweth remembers, then spent the next three days in her hotel, sitting in silence with the lights off. “I was so sick,” she recalls. “And that began my odyssey with migraine.”

Migraines affect 40 million people in the US, and of those, 4 million experience chronic migraine — having 15 or more days with headaches a month, according to Dr. Hope O’Brien, neurologist and Founder and CEO of Headache Center of Hope. Migraines also affect three times more women than men. “[Chronic migraine] is having a headache pretty much every day, with four or more hours in pain or with symptoms,” O’Brien tells SheKnows. “It’s a serious condition and unfortunately, is under recognized under diagnosed and for many women who have it, ignored.”

For Chenoweth, chronic migraines were incredibly painful and disruptive. She would experience flashing lights (known as an aura), a ringing in her ears, nausea, and the pounding headache. “It’s so excruciating,” Chenoweth says. Her non-stop lifestyle as a performer didn’t help. “I fly a lot for my job,” she said, listing her triggers. “Diet, all the things you hear about: stress, anxiety, sleep. I was getting them at first around what felt like my menstrual cycle. And then sometimes they would be clusters, like three a month… but it was just happening more and more as I got older.”

It got so bad that Chenoweth seriously considered giving up her dream career. “I was gonna have to retire,” the original Wicked star says. At the time, using Botox as a treatment for chronic migraine was “just starting,” Chenoweth recalls, and her doctor recommended she try it as a last-ditch effort.

“I did it, and I’ve not looked back,” says Chenoweth, who’s partnered with pharmaceutical company AbbVie to promote Botox as chronic migraine treatment.

Botox is a chemical that’s injected into muscles to temporarily prevent them from moving. You might be familiar with Botox for cosmetic use, which involves injecting it into facial muscles to smooth wrinkles, but it’s also used to treat conditions like neck spasms, overactive bladder, and chronic migraines, per Mayo Clinic. For chronic migraine patients in particular, Dr. O’Brien said, Botox is injected “into seven muscles in the head and neck,” typically every three months for adults.

The Botox treatment helped Chenoweth decrease the frequency her migraines, which were coming multiple times a month, down to almost nothing. “I very rarely have them. It’s been a couple years,” says Chenoweth.

For a condition that affects predominantly women, both Chenoweth and O’Brien emphasize the importance of advocating for yourself to get quality migraine care. “What I would say to women is to talk to their healthcare provider, don’t let them ignore you,” O’Brien says. “Chronic migraine is a treatable condition.”

And while treatments like Botox are available, lifestyle changes can also help. “I’m not a big alcohol drinker, and I think that probably helps,” Chenoweth says. She also watches the sodium in her diet, stays hydrated, and prioritizes sleep as she can on a busy schedule. “It’s just so important that that [migraine] patients maintain just a really regular, healthy lifestyle,” O’Brien notes, including staying hydrated, eating regular meals, sleeping well, and exercising regularly. Chenoweth also practices yoga, which O’Brien notes has “been proven to help improve migraine.”

For Chenoweth, it’s about staying consistent. “When I do all the things that I should do — drink my water, stay hydrated, eat properly, and have somewhat of a structure like we’re supposed to — It does help,” she says. “It’s the basic stuff that we forget about.”

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