Kristin Chenoweth Talks Chronic Migraine And Partnering With AbbVie To Empower Others - Exclusive Interview

Broadway fans know Kristin Chenoweth as an Emmy and Tony Award-winning singer and actress best known for her roles in "Wicked" and "You're a Good Man Charlie Brown." She's also well-known for TV shows such as "The West Wing" and "Pushing Daisies" and for her many albums. But while she's gained massive amounts of success for her talent, many didn't know she was suffering behind the scenes.

Kristin Chenoweth has suffered from chronic migraine since she was 25 years old. Chronic migraine is a disease that affects 3.3 million Americans and is associated with 15 or more headache days a month. Chenoweth struggled with the condition for years without finding any treatments to help. But when she was on the verge of retiring early due to the pain, her doctor suggested trying BOTOX® for Chronic Migraine. 

Chenoweth has partnered with AbbVie on the Center Stage with Chronic Migraine program. She's speaking about her journey with chronic migraine to empower those suffering to learn how to manage the disease. The actress sat down for an interview with Health Digest to discuss her journey with migraines. 

She's had migraines since she was 25

How long have you been suffering from chronic migraines?

Kristin Chenoweth: It started for me at 25. I was on stage with the Virginia Symphony Orchestra. I started getting my symptoms, which I can talk to you more about in a second, but I was 25 years old and didn't know what was happening to me. I recently partnered with AbbVie because they have a new program, Center Stage with Chronic Migraine, which is apropos that it's me. Finally, after years and working with my doctor, I found this treatment, and it's called Botox for chronic migraine.

When I was on stage at that time at 25, I would get these symptoms — and I still get them — kaleidoscope eyes. If you were looking into a kaleidoscope or if you're drinking a Slurpee too fast and you get a brain freeze, imagine if it didn't pass. I remember I looked up in the mezzanine at the spotlight. Lights are a big deal. By intermission, I literally sat down. The curtain went down. I sat down and crawled off the stage. That started my whole process with chronic migraine.

She shrank herself while suffering

Chenoweth (continued): We're learning a lot from your generation about not shrinking when there's pain or injury but talking about it. I didn't. I kept quiet because I didn't want to be viewed as weak. There's this stigma with "just having a headache." This is not a headache — this is a horrible, painful thing. When you have not just one, two, or three, but four, five, or six, it's like, "I'm going to have to retire." Through my twenties and thirties, I kept it pretty quiet. I did manage to eke out to some of my coworkers, like, "I have this thing. It may happen if I do [this]."

I tried everything. I did shots in my legs. I did medication. I did everything. [I was] about 39, 40, or 41 — around there — I went to my doctor, and we started working together on this because I thought I was going to have to retire. He said, "I don't know what your reaction's going to be, but Botox for chronic migraine can really work and help you." I said, "Do it. Just do it." 

He puts in about 30, 31 ... I call them tiny little pinches all over my scalp and head; he's the doctor [and he knows] where the points are. Within two months, I noticed a difference. Then I started getting hope. Then I came to understand that this was preventative. I didn't know [how]. I just knew it was working — that it was getting better and that this was working for me.

According to BOTOX® for Chronic Migraine, the treatment can prevent headaches and migraine attacks before they even start — on average, 8 to 9 headache days and migraine/probable migraine days a month (compared to 6 to 7 for placebo) in clinical studies.

Stigma surrounding migraine

Chenoweth: When AbbVie came to me and wanted to partner with me about their Center Stage with Chronic Migraine program ... We know how this works. [It allowed me] to be able to talk about something that really affected my life and my career. I won an Emmy one night, and all the paparazzi photos [made it so] I went to the hospital. 

This has been a real-life thing. [I'm] able to now be free to talk with you about it and not shrink and say, "Oh, I have this chronic thing." I do, and I want to be able to empower others. I love to mentor. It's a big thing in my life — to be able to even mentor my younger actresses and say, "I was 25. It's okay. Here's something that you may try."

These are the things that I have come to understand and learn about myself. Is it a cure? No. Has it kept me from retirement and allowed me to do the thing I love to do the most? Yes.

That's amazing. With migraines, because some people might think it's "just a headache," do you feel like it's an issue that's misunderstood broadly?

Chenoweth: Yes. There's a stigma. I can remember an ex-boyfriend — who isn't a bad guy — but I started getting the symptom, and I knew it was coming. This was many years ago, and he said, "Oh, you got a headache." I said, "It's not a headache." He goes, "My mom had headaches." I go, "This isn't a headache." He had to see me go into a dark room, throw up, not be able to see, hear, brain freeze. It's not [understood] until you experience it. Also, there's something to be said about when you have something that no one can see, but it's there. That's not just chronic migraine. That's a lot of things.

I don't want pity. I want to be able to talk about it and empower people. That guy learned. He saw. Anybody that's in my core, they know. My maternal grandmother had it real bad, but my mother had it too — not chronic. [Knowing that helped] me understand, "Oh, my, you're getting these a lot." It's been really good for me to be with AbbVie and be able to talk about chronic migraine.

Keeping up with her career while having chronic migraine

You said that for a while in your career, you weren't opening up about it. Were you worried it might stop you from getting opportunities, or what were your concerns?

Chenoweth: I didn't want to be viewed as weak. I didn't want people to go, "Oh." Because it's not like you can say, "Okay, on Thursday, I'm not working. Let's schedule the migraine then." You can't. I didn't want it to affect my career. I didn't want to not get jobs because of it. I didn't want insurance companies with movie companies to look at me like, "Hmm, she's got this thing." I shrank.

No more shrinking, because guess what? If you live, you got crap. It might not be this thing, but you got stuff — everybody I know has stuff. Why do I have to hide?

This started when you were 25, and you only just found this treatment that worked. What was it like having this insane schedule for work and everything, keeping everything going while dealing with that? 

Chenoweth: Two of the things that I have to do for my career are two of the things that are triggers, which is flying, and also ... I don't drink alcohol — that's easy — but I have a low salt diet. These are things that my doctor and I have discovered about my makeup that help. Stress can be [a trigger]. That's good stress and bad stress. There's good stress: There's the excitement of playing Carnegie Hall. There's the excitement of doing a new TV show. There's the excitement of meeting an idol. There's an excitement of getting to see your family when you haven't seen them before. It's all good stress. 

Breathing, meditation — everybody has a different way [of handling stress]. I believe in God. That's not for everybody, but that's my thing: meditation, prayer, calming down, realizing you're not alone. You're not on an island by yourself. Other people have it too. These are things that bring me comfort.

Feeling isolated with migraines

When you were keeping it to yourself, were you as aware of how many other people were suffering from migraines, or did it feel isolating?

Chenoweth: No. I'm now right smack-dab in the middle of my life. I love social media, but I was there when Twitter was born. I'm on both sides. I'm in the middle. I'm learning that it's okay to say to your coworker, "I have this thing. I'm sorry. It may happen."

I was doing a show with Sean Hayes. We were doing "Promises, Promises." I shared with him that I had it because if it happened on stage, I wanted him to know. It happened on stage, and it happened to be that I was in a scene where I was laying on a bed, and he goes, "I got you. I got you. It's going to be okay." I can't begin to tell you how much that helped me. 

There is a thing I call "Dr. Footlights" too. It's unexplainable magic. Dr. Footlights is like, "You're going to push through this, and then you're going to fall apart." I know a lot of people who do that in their jobs. They try to push through it with chronic migraine, and then they go home, and they're sick. Sometimes you cannot push through it.

I actually had a director say to me once on Broadway, "Okay, you'll push through the show." I'm like, "I can't see. I can't see." I pushed through it but was so sick, and it's not a performance I would want anyone to see. That goes for people who sit behind a desk. That goes for people who run a company. It doesn't matter. It feels like an attack. I'm passionate about it, as you can see.

How did you keep from feeling discouraged? You probably did a little bit, but how did you keep from being too discouraged while you were going through all that?

Chenoweth: The first thing I would do is allow myself to feel discouraged. The second thing I would do is call my mother. I'm very close with her, and she would say the words I needed to hear. My mom has a tendency to be able to do that. Those are two very big ones. I want to encourage people to rely on the people that love them unconditionally.

Kristin's advice for anyone suffering from chronic pain

What's your best advice to someone who is suffering from chronic migraines or with any type of chronic pain?

Chenoweth: Talk to your doctor. Get to the doctor and talk to your doctor and find out a treatment that works for you. This works for me. I happen to think that it works for a lot of people. We have a website that people can go to and find your group. Some people are still like, "Hmm." But I would get with your doctor and healthcare provider and start talking through some treatment options.

Were there any treatments you found before Botox that helped you at all, or was this the first thing?

Chenoweth: No. I'm going to be honest. No. I tried everything. I did it all. I tried every single thing. Chronic migraine — [nothing helped]. There wasn't [anything], so this has been a blessing.

What's your go-to way to de-stress? Because like you said, stress can be a trigger for you.

Chenoweth: Sometimes you need five minutes to yourself, and there's no shame in that. I love being around people because I love people, but sometimes getting alone in a room and being there, literally just being there and turning on your favorite song ... things like that. Everybody will be different, and everybody will find their thing for them. For some people, it's nature. For some people, it's taking a drive. [For] some people it's watching a true crime doc. I also like those. It doesn't matter. You'll find your thing. People will find their thing.

What would be your advice to someone who is trying to pursue a competitive career or trying to perform but they have chronic pain or chronic migraines?

Chenoweth: I would say, "Look at me. If I can do it, you can do it." That's A. B [is to] share. Find the treatment that works for you and share. Mainly, if you can see yourself doing anything else and being happy — because that's really the key to life — then go do that other thing. This life is challenging, hard, wonderful, amazing, [and it] can be a bummer. I'm being honest, but if you can see yourself doing something else and being happy, go do that thing. But if you cannot, then go for it, pain or no pain, because you're going to have [the pain] anyway. 

We live. If we live, we have crap. You never know how it's going to manifest — whether you're going to be behind the camera, in front of the camera, and doing the lights, the sound. There are kids I mentor that were going to be singers no matter what, and they're technicians now, and they love it, so don't put yourself in a box.

Important safety information on BOTOX

Safety information about BOTOX® for Chronic Migraine: Botox is a prescription medicine that is injected into muscles and used to prevent headaches in adults with chronic migraine who have 15 or more days each month with headaches lasting four or more hours each day and people 18 years and older. It's not known whether Botox is safe and effective to prevent headaches in patients with migraine who have 14 or fewer headaches each month. Treatment with BOTOX® for Chronic Migraine includes 31 injections.

As far as important safety information, Botox can cause serious side effects that may be life-threatening. Get medical help right away if you have any of these problems any time hours to weeks after injection of Botox. Problems swallowing, speaking, or breathing due to the weakening of associated muscles can be severe and result in loss of life. You are at the highest risk if these problems are preexisting before injection. Swallowing problems may last for several months. 

Then, [there's] spread of toxin effects. The effect of botulinum toxin may affect areas away from the injection site and cause serious symptoms, including loss of strength and all-over muscle weakness, double vision, blurred vision, drooping eyelids, hoarseness, or change or loss of voice, trouble saying words clearly, loss of bladder control, trouble breathing, and trouble swallowing. There's not been a confirmed serious case of spread of toxin effect away from the injection site when Botox has been used at the recommended dose to treat chronic migraine.

Botox may cause loss of strength or general muscle weakness, vision problems, or dizziness within hours to weeks of receiving Botox. If this happens, don't drive a car, operate machinery, or do other dangerous activities. Don't receive Botox if you're allergic to any of the ingredients in Botox, had an allergic reaction to any other botulinum toxin products, or have a skin infection at the point injection site.

The dose of Botox is not the same as or comparable to another botulinum toxin product. Serious and or immediate allergic reactions have been reported, including itching, rash, red itchy welts, wheezing, asthma symptoms, dizziness, or feeling faint. Get medical help right away if you experience symptoms. Further injection of a Botox should be discontinued.

Talking to your doctor about using BOTOX safely

Safety information about BOTOX® for Chronic Migraine, continued: Tell your doctor about all your muscle or nerve conditions, such as ALS or Lou Gehrig's disease, myasthenia gravis, or Lambert-Eaton syndrome, as you may be at increased risk of serious side effects, including difficulty swallowing and difficulty breathing from typical doses of Botox.

Tell your doctor about all your medical conditions, including if you have or have had bleeding problems, have plans to have surgery, had surgery on your face, have weakness of forehead muscles, trouble raising your eyebrows, drooping eyelids, or any other abnormal facial change, you're pregnant or plan to become pregnant, or breastfeeding or plan to.

Tell your doctor about all the medicines you take, including prescription and over-the-counter medicines, vitamins, and herbal supplements. Using Botox with certain other medicines may cause serious side effects. Don't start any new medicines until you've told your doctor that you have received Botox in the past.

Tell your doctor if you've received any other botulinum toxin product in the last four months, have received injections of botulinum toxin in the past, have recently received an antibiotic by injection, taken muscle relaxants, taken allergy or cold medicine, taken a sleep medicine, [or] take aspirin products or blood thinners.

Other side effects of Botox include dry mouth, discomfort or pain at the injection site, tiredness, headache, neck pain, eye problems such as double vision, blurred vision, decreased eyesight, drooping eyelids, swelling of your eyelids and dry eyes, drooping eyebrows and upper respiratory tract infection.

For more information, refer to the medication guide or talk with your doctor. You're encouraged to report negative side effects of prescription drugs to the FDA. Visit or call 1-800-FDA-1088. Lastly, please see Botox's full product information, including our box warning and medication guide, at

For more information on Center Stage with Chronic Migraine visit

This interview has been edited for clarity.