Thursday, July 21, 2016

Not Just a Headache: Managing Migraines

Migraines are often perceived as simply bad headaches but in actuality, more than 37 million Americans are suffering from a debilitating condition that can't always be handled with a dose of Tylenol. Though migraines are a type of headache, they are more severe and can be accompanied by nausea, vomiting, tingling, stroke-like symptoms and sensitivity to light and sound. Sometimes a migraine phenomenon can even occur without a headache.

According to GBMC neurologist Arash Taavoni, DO, identifying one's migraine triggers is the key to preventing them. He recommends that patients log their food, stress levels and sleep, along with other environmental factors, like weather conditions and barometric pressure, in an effort to find patterns. There are even mobile phone apps, such as MigraineBuddy, that can be useful in helping patients log their migraine symptoms, frequency, duration and intensity by automatically making data correlations to pinpoint a migraine's cause. Some of the most common food-related triggers are caffeine and MSG, which is often found in highly-processed and convenience foods, so establishing a healthy diet is the first step to addressing migraines. In addition to lifestyle and behavioral factors, genetics and hormones can make certain people more prone to migraines; they can run in families and are more common among women.

While identifying triggers as a means of trying to avoid migraines is ideal, sometimes this isn't enough and other treatments may be needed. There are two types of medications that can be prescribed – preventive and abortive. Other than pills, there are also intranasal and injectable medications for faster relief. There are even treatments without medications, such as headband-like devices patients can wear at home that use electrical impulses or magnets to reduce migraines by acting on the nerves associated with head/face pain. Dr. Taavoni notes that acupuncture may be helpful as a complementary treatment, as well.

Some patients with chronic migraines who have not had adequate success with medications and lifestyle modifications could be candidates for Botox® injections. "To prevent migraines, Botox® is injected into 31 specific spots on the head and shoulders, administered every three months by a trained physician," Dr. Taavoni says.

If you're suffering from migraine headaches, your primary care physician can likely help you find a solution. If migraines are frequent and refractory or if there are additional neurological symptoms, you should see a neurologist:

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