Here’s How Kristin Chenoweth Overcame Years of Chronic Migraine Headaches

Kristin Chenoweth makes high notes, dance numbers, and staying upbeat look effortless—but reveals how years of chronic migraines nearly ended her career. A The Healthy @Reader's Digest exclusive.

Kristin Chenoweth—who’s perhaps best known for originating Glinda in Wicked and her recurring role as April Rhodes on Fox’s Glee—is beloved for her spunky spirit and high energy. But, Chenoweth says, for decades she’s dealt with a health issue at times so debilitating that it once threatened her career: intense migraine headaches.

Chenoweth, 53, recently finished shooting Schmigadoon, an AppleTV+ parody of musicals from the 1940s and 1950s. And while she’s as busy as she’s ever been, she tells The Healthy @Reader’s Digest how her career was nearly waylaid by her first migraine at age 25 while she performed in a sold-out show at the Virginia Orchestra. “By intermission,” Chenoweth told us, “I was crawling off the stage and thought I would have to retire.”

Fortunate for legions of Broadway fans, somehow Chenoweth hung in there despite the severe pain…but finding the courage to speak up about her struggle with migraines took a while. “For so long, I felt stigma and shame,” she says.

Chenoweth is partnering with AbbVie on the Center Stage with Chronic Migraine program, which aims to help and empower people living with Chronic Migraine to talk to their doctor about how to manage their disease. Recently Chenoweth chatted with The Healthy @Reader’s Digest about the initiative.

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What is chronic migraine?

Kristin Chenoweth Hosts RHOFADE (Oxymetazoline HCl) Cream, 1% Launch Event in NYCCindy Ord/Getty Images

In recent years, the World Health Organization (WHO) has suggested that 148 million people worldwide live with chronic migraine—headaches that occur 15 or more days per month and last for four or more hours. The WHO also counts migraines in general as one of the 10 most disabling medical illnesses on Earth.

So what causes chronic migraines? According to Larry Charleston IV, MD, MSc, FAHS,  director of headache and facial pain and director of faculty development in the Department of Neurology and Ophthalmology at Michigan State University College of Human Medicine, chronic migraine is “a neurological disease that has associated symptoms (such as nausea or vomiting, headache pain, and sensitivity to light and sound, to name a few) and can significantly affect patients’ day-to-day activities.” Dr. Charleston also speaks to what many migraine sufferers know too well: that the condition can have a significant impact on day-to-day activities, resulting in missed days at work and time away from friends and family.

Chenoweth says she ticked every box, and then some. “I would get kaleidoscope eyes and that brain freeze you get when eating ice cream—but it never passed—and nausea,” she says.

How did she finally get relief? With BOTOX for Chronic Migraine. A version of the same shots that often help smooth wrinkles are also U.S. Food and Drug Administration-approved for chronic migraine prevention.

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On using BOTOX for Chronic Migraine, Chenoweth says, “This works for me”—adding: “It’s not a cure, but I saw a difference.” She reports receiving treatments every 12 weeks to maintain the relief.

Dr. Charleston says other preventive treatments like BOTOX for Chronic Migraine include calcium channel blockers, beta-blockers, tricyclic antidepressants, and calcitonin gene-related peptide (CGRP) antagonists.

“We’ve come a long way in better understanding chronic migraine and the types of treatment options for this debilitating disease,” he says.

Dr. Charleston adds that there are now multiple FDA-approved acute treatment options, too; but the goal of acute treatment is to stop the symptoms of a migraine attack after onset. By contrast, preventive treatments like BOTOX for Chronic Migraine work to prevent headache days before they start.

Living a healthy life and avoiding migraine triggers also help her keep headaches at bay. “Stress, of course, is a trigger, but stress comes in all ways,” Chenoweth says. “There’s bad stress and there is great fighting stress, like getting ready to go onstage.”

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Chenoweth revealed that she manages that “bad stress” through prayer and meditation. Also? “I don’t drink alcohol, and I eat a low-salt diet,” she says. Read Here Are 8 Surprising Foods That Can Trigger Migraines

When things seem overwhelming, she tries to embrace the uplifting things in life. “I will go on a walk in Los Angeles where I don’t have to wear my mask and notice this cute snail or see a hummingbird,” she says. “Be in the moment, and live your life.”

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Kristin Chenoweth, actor and singer Larry Charleston IV, MD, the director of headache & facial pain at Michigan State University in East Lansing

Denise Mann, MS
Denise Mann is a freelance health writer whose articles regularly appear in WebMD, HealthDay, and other consumer health portals. She has received numerous awards, including the Arthritis Foundation's Northeast Region Prize for Online Journalism; the Excellence in Women's Health Research Journalism Award; the Journalistic Achievement Award from the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery; National Newsmaker of the Year by the Community Anti-Drug Coalitions of America; the Gold Award for Best Service Journalism from the Magazine Association of the Southeast; a Bronze Award from The American Society of Healthcare Publication Editors (for a cover story she wrote in Plastic Surgery Practice magazine); and an honorable mention in the International Osteoporosis Foundation Journalism Awards. She was part of the writing team awarded a 2008 Sigma Delta Chi award for her part in a WebMD series on autism. Her first foray into health reporting was with the Medical Tribune News Service, where her articles appeared regularly in such newspapers as the Detroit Free Press, Chicago Sun-Times, Dallas Morning News, and Los Angeles Daily News. Mann received a graduate degree from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill., and her undergraduate degree from Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pa. She lives in New York with her husband David; sons Teddy and Evan; and their miniature schnauzer, Perri Winkle Blu.