Elvis Presley's Private Struggle With Intractable Migraines Revealed1****
Migraine care is Attitude — not theirs, but that of some medical professionals, some media, and much of the general public. Too many people still don't realize that migraine is a genetic neurological disease. They still stereotype us, consider us "drug seekers," and continue to misunderstand migraine disease. When Michael John Coleman, the director of MAGNUM, the National Migraine Association, and the rest of the MAGNUM staff discovered that Elvis Presley was reported to have been a migraineur, they set out to investigate. The article below is the result of his months of in-depth research.
In the heartland of the country, migraine sufferer Jennifer Johnson is rushed to a Wisconsin emergency room. Jennifer, who suffers from just a few migraines a year, was not responding to her home OTC (over-the-counter) treatment regimen and so came to the ER to put an end to the severe pain and nausea caused from her three-day-long debilitating migraine attack. But to her shock and dismay, this Midwest emergency room would only add to her suffering. The ER refused to give her treatment, and, in frustration and disabling pain, she went to the only other hospital in the small city. Jennifer, like so many other Migraineurs, could pass a drug test with flying colors, does not drink alcohol, and hates smoking. But based upon her 'look' and a health care professional's misinterpretation of the existence of 'migraine behavior,' Jennifer was assumed to be a 'drug seeker' and was turned away. This scenario, unfortunately, is nothing new, as Americans have been misunderstanding the behavior of migraine sufferers for decades. Some well-known Americans have had to endure this misunderstanding, oftentimes negatively affecting their legacy. The most recent findings reveal the fact that the king of rock and roll, Elvis Presley, suffered from migraines and that his condition has been greatly misunderstood.
One of the corner stones of any disease awareness campaign is letting patients know that they are not alone in their suffering, but instead are in good company. Accordingly, MAGNUM, the National Migraine Association, gets very positive responses from sufferers who visit their web site, and communications indicate that Migraine sufferers find great comfort in the knowledge that they are not alone. Knowing that others have accomplished great things in spite of their migraine disability is empowering. Compiling a list of famous migraineurs is a daunting task, however, as many have hidden the fact that they have migraine (or 'sick headaches' as they where known in the past). Furthermore, as pointed out by Dr. Stuart R. Stark, Director of the Neurology & Headache Treatment Center in Alexandria, Virginia, many persons with migraines are misdiagnosed, further fogging the issue. Many individuals do or did not realize that they suffer from migraines and instead dangerously blamed their illness on depression or other somatoforms.
Recently, MAGNUM was updating its You Are In Good Company section of its more than one-hundred-page award-winning migraine awareness Web site when it noticed that its site was the only one to list Elvis Presley as a migraine sufferer. To the staff at MAGNUM, it seemed obvious that Elvis suffered from migraines based upon public records and Elvis' observed behavior. It came to MAGNUM's attention that the rumors of Elvis' abuse of unneeded prescription drugs, illegal drug use, drinking, and other intonated but unsupportable behavior, could be attributed to his migraines. The typical rhetoric so many Migraine sufferers deal with every day, even today, seemed to surround this gifted artist. In response, MAGNUM's Executive Director, Michael John Coleman, spent several weeks investigating to once and for all confirm or deny whether the King of rock and roll suffered from migraine disease and if his migraines were treated.
With the assistance of Marvin Robinstien, Development Officer of the Regional Medical Center in Memphis, Tennessee, MAGNUM was able identify who in the Memphis medical community should be contacted to discuss the facts regarding Mr. Presley's migraines. Mr. Coleman, armed with various observations, past press leaks, and public record facts (such as Mr. Presley's October and November 1973 Hospital stays for "headache and mild hypertension," his 1975 hospital stay for "extensive eye exam" which was later discovered to be for migraine aura problems, and physicians' reports from both the Baptist Hospital and the Mid-South Hospital regarding Mr. Presley's eye problems, i.e., aura, sensitivity to light and sound, fatigue, pain, slurred speech, and other Migrainous traits) began digging for the facts to support the existence of Elvis' migraines.
MAGNUM Executive Director Michael John Coleman conducted an extensive interview with the kind and articulate Dr. George Nichopoulos, Elvis Presley's personal physician, during which was discussed Elvis' seemingly migraine-related behavior. Discussed, among other things, were public records and accounts of Elvis' life, including a Washington, D.C. radio broadcast which talked about leaked information from Elvis' autopsy, including certain drugs found in the singer's bloodstream such as Demerol, Propranolol, LSD, and antiemetics. The primary indicator that Elvis had migraines gleaned from these public reports was that the very drugs found in Elvis' system at the time of the autopsy were used in the 70's to treat anyone under good prudent care for intractable migraine. MAGNUM raised the subject of the autopsy drug information during the interview and noted that the best and only abortive drug family available in the 1970's to treat Migraine was the prescription ergotamine drug family. This is important because ergotamine most often tests as LSD, as ergot alkaloid is structurally related to the potent hallucinogen LSD. In addition, Propranolol, Demerol, and antiemetics were all common medications used to treat migraine. Accordingly, Dr. Nichopoulos confirmed to MAGNUM that Mr. Presley was indeed treated for reoccurring and debilitating migraines. DHE45, an ergotamine derivative, was Elvis' primary abortive migraine regimen. However, unfortunately for Elvis, DHE45 can only be used a limited number of times a month, thereby requiring Elvis to depend upon more conventional pain management therapies such as analgesics and narcotics to treat his other debilitating migraine attacks. (Although DHE injection has been used for many years in the effective treatment of migraine, it is now considered more appropriate for treating the most severe cases since less toxic agents are currently available such as a more refined DHE Nasal spray under the name of Migranal®.) MAGNUM also noted that the press concluded that Elvis suffered from hypertension problems based upon the presence of Propranolol, a common hypertension prescription drug, in his blood. However, Propranolol is also approved by the FDA for use as a migraine prophylactic treatment, which Dr. Nichopoulos confirmed Elvis was undergoing.
There was a time in this country when migraine was thought by many in the medical community to be a psychosomatic illness. If it were not for the dedicated commitment over the past two decades of more enlightened physicians who understood that Migraine is an organic neurological disease, we wouldn't have the care and treatment now available to migraine sufferers. Better understanding of migraine continues to be advanced by such pioneers as Drs. Keith Campbell, Seymour Diamond, Merle Diamond, Nabih Ramadan, Joel Saper, Fred Sheftell, and Stephen Silberstein. Better understanding of migraine disease is also being underscored more often in the press, for example, in the cover story run in the FDA Consumer Magazine last May. That article pointed out that, according to the American Medical Association, migraine is a neurological disorder, not a psychological disorder.
No dedicated medical test for migraine currently exists, so proper diagnosis and treatment of migraine remains critical. According to MAGNUM's Legislative Director, Terri Miller Burchfield, the overall best approach to migraine treatment and management is what MAGNUM calls a multifactorial approach to migraine treatment: this approach involves addressing all four aspects of migraine health care, namely, preventive treatment, trigger management, abortive treatment, and general pain management. In addition to proper treatment of migraine, knowledge about migraine and other disease awareness activities are potent weapons in the fight improve the quality of life of migraineurs, Ms. Burchfield went on to say.
Although the negative social stigma currently attached to persons suffering from Migraine disease is not as bad as it was in the 1950's, 60's, or 70's, it still has a long way to go. The good news is that thanks to groups such ACHE (American Council on Headache Education), the WHA (World Headache Alliance), and MAGNUM (The National Migraine Association), and thanks to new anti-migraine drugs and aggressive research conducted on migraine in the 90's, the world is finally beginning to overcome the myths and misconceptions that surround this debilitating disease.
Of course, no report about "The King" is complete without discussing "Elvis Sightings" and the people who believe he is still alive. As a side note, I offer you a Kansas City area psychiatrist who says that Elvis is alive and that he is treating him for migraines.
Dr. Donald Hinton said, "Elvis lives and still sings, but he no longer shakes his hips because he is old now and has arthritis . . . I hear from him on a regular basis . . . On Sunday, it was by Phone . . . I'm treating Elvis Aaron Presley, the entertainer, (whom) everybody believes died in 1977."2
Dr. Hinton, who says he has co-written a book called "The Truth About Elvis Aaron Presley," also says he has DNA evidence that his patient is Elvis. He told a reporter that Elvis plans to reveal himself to his fans in 2002, and that he "faked his death so he could get away and get healthy."
Dr. Hinton is a board-certified practicing physician, licensed in 1993, with no record of disciplinary action.
When I asked MAGNUM's Mr. Coleman about Dr. Hinton's claim, he replied that he had personally spoken with both the coroner who conducted Elvis's autopsy and Dr. George Nichopoulos, Elvis Presley's personal physician, both of whom were quite satisfied that it was indeed Elvis Aaron Presley who died in 1977.
1 Reprinted with permission of MAGNUM, the National Migraine Association.
2 "Doctor Claims He's Treating Elvis, Psychiatrist Says He Has DNA Evidence." KETV-7, TheOmahaChannel.com. February 14, 2002.