More than 28 million Americans — most of them women — suffer from migraines, according to an estimate by The National Headache Foundation. Migraines have been around for thousands of years, and the ailment is still not well understood.
But here’s the good news: With proper diagnosis, treatment, and prevention strategies, migraine sufferers can reduce the frequency and intensity of their headaches, while learning to manage symptoms to lead normal, functioning lives.
You have to do more than treat the symptoms. You have to understand your problem and what’s causing it. That’s why, at National Pain Institute, we get to the root cause of your pain and figure out exactly what is going wrong with each of our patients.
A migraine is more than just a bad headache.
Migraines wreak havoc on people’s lives, causing them to cancel plans, stay home from work, or become depressed.
Chronic migraine sufferers experience as much social stigma as people with epilepsy, according to research from Thomas Jefferson University.
If you have intense throbbing or a pulsing sensation on one area of the head, you might have a migraine. Some people may also experience pain on both sides of the head.
These types of headaches are commonly accompanied by nausea, vomiting, and sensitivity to light and noise. They can last for hours or even up to three days.
About one third of people affected can predict the onset of a migraine because they have an aura, or a group of visual symptoms, about 30 minutes before an attack occurs.
What you may not realize is that migraines are a neurological disorder characterized by recurrent moderate to severe headaches.
During a migraine attack, changes in brain activity produce inflamed blood vessels and nerves around the brain. However, according to the American Medical Association, the exact cause of a migraine is uncertain. There are, however, various theories being studied. Currently, a mixture of environmental and genetic factors are believed to cause migraines.
It’s also known that migraines run in families. Fluctuations in hormone levels, such as menstruation, pregnancy, and menopause may also play a role.
Key Takeaway: A migraine is more than a bad headache. Migraine is actually a disease characterized by recurrent and intense pain usually felt on one side of the head.
It’s important to see a doctor to properly diagnose migraines.
Migraine is a diagnosis of exclusion, so doctors must eliminate other reasons for any symptoms before giving a patient a migraine diagnosis. If your symptoms are bad enough for you to think you may have migraines, you should see an expert to make sure you don’t have some other health concern.
In many migraine sufferers, there is a clear cause or known triggers, but for others there is no reason for attacks that come on randomly.
Without proper treatment, over time your migraine may become a continuous background headache with occasional severe migraine symptoms. You could also develop chronic migraine, which is challenging to treat and more debilitating to sufferers.
Key Takeaway: If you think you may be experiencing migraines, you might be suffering from a different health problem, so it’s important to get a diagnosis from a doctor to get proper treatment and relief.
Medications may be making your pain worse.
When trying to fight a migraine, you probably want to take pain medicine for relief. But at National Pain Institute, we believe medicine is not the only answer.
In fact, your medications probably won’t actually get rid of your migraine, but will only treat the symptoms — and may even make your migraines worse.
When someone takes painkillers on a consistent basis for weeks and months at a time, the situation is not good.
Many over-the-counter drugs and prescription drugs can lead to rebound headaches or medication-overuse headaches (MOH). When you take too much medication — usually more than two days per week — headaches begin to return as soon as the medicine wears off.
You may also develop chronic headaches.
Types of drugs that can cause rebound headaches:
- Pain relievers. This includes aspirin, NSAIDs (i.e. ibuprofen), and analgesics (i.e. acetaminophen–Tylenol).
- Combination analgesics. These medicines contain some combination of acetaminophen, aspirin, and caffeine.
- Triptans. This class of medicine constricts blood vessels and reduces headache pain.
- Narcotics. Narcotics, such as codeine, can be addictive.
- Narcotic-like drugs.
Instead of simply prescribing drugs, our doctors follow a multidisciplinary, holistic, non-invasive approach to pain management.
Key Takeaway: Turning to drugs to treat your migraine pain is common, but you may actually be making your situation worse. There is a better way to find relief and prevent your migraines.
You have treatment options — other than medication — to help relieve your migraine pain.
1. Identifying dietary and lifestyle triggers
Think of it like this: Inside your brain, a control center for migraine receives input from the many triggers contributing to headaches. These triggers stack up, and if your total trigger level rises above your personal limit of tolerance (your migraine threshold), migraine is set into motion. The degree of your headache or other symptoms depends on how high above your threshold your trigger level has climbed.
All forms of migraine can be controlled by keeping your trigger level below your threshold.
Dietary triggers make up a major component of your total trigger load. You can avoid these triggers, but you need to know which foods are triggers for you. Some common food triggers have been identified, but seeing a doctor who understands this issue can better help you identify and avoid your personal triggers.
Some foods that may cause migraine include:
- Dairy products
- Citrus fruits
- Nuts and peanuts
Some foods that may prevent or treat migraine include:
- Coffee (for some people)
- Foods rich in magnesium
- Foods rich in calcium
Many people also have lifestyle triggers, such as oversleeping, stress, or exposure to bright lights, loud noises, or strong smells.
Keeping a headache diary can be very effective in helping you figure out your personal headache triggers and in helping your doctors figure out the best treatment.
Key Takeaway: Identifying your personal dietary and lifestyle triggers can help reduce your migraine pain.
Acupuncture is one of the main medical treatments in traditional Chinese medicine and has been practiced for thousands of years. Only recently is it becoming more accepted as a treatment for pain and other issues. This treatment releases your body’s own natural painkillers, allowing your body to heal itself.
Acupuncture offers headache relief. The National Institutes of Health recommend acupuncture as a viable treatment for chronic headaches.
Here are some studies to report the success of this remedy:
- Acupuncture is more effective than medication in reducing severity and frequency of chronic headaches, according to a comprehensive review of rigorously-executed trials by Duke University Medical Center researchers.
- Acupuncture is as effective as, or more effective than, prophylactic drug treatment, and has fewer adverse effects, according to a systematic Cochrane review.
Here’s how it works: A trained practitioner will insert many thin, disposable needles into several areas on your skin at defined points. Yes, needles are used, but the experience is not painful.
The way acupuncture helps prevent and treat migraines is not known. Scientists believe it may have something to do with the release of tiny molecules from nerve endings at the acupuncture sites. These molecules, called neurotransmitters, modulate pain messages going to the part of the brain where pain messages are modulated.
Key Takeaway: Acupuncture is now a scientifically accepted pain treatment. Multiple studies have found it to be more effective than medication, with fewer side effects.
3. Physical therapy
Whether or not patients respond to physical therapy depends on how much the muscles and joints are involved in their headaches.
Certain physical therapy techniques, especially used at the beginning of a headache, can help reduce the pain.
Here are some methods that may help you find relief for migraine pain:
- Aerobic exercise, which leads to a better fitness level, is an alternative therapy method for migraine, according to a study in the International Journal of Sports Medicine.
- Reflexology is a technique that places pressure on specific reflex points on the hands and feet that correspond to areas throughout the body and, thus, stimulates the nervous system to trigger a natural healing response. An exploratory study found 80 percent of patients reported they were helped by reflexology treatments or even cured of their headache problems.
- Certain head and neck exercises, when done properly, can help alleviate pain.
Key Takeaway: For certain patients, a variety of physical therapy treatments may be able to help or even cure them of their migraine pain.
Biofeedback uses special equipment that monitors physical tension to teach patients how to control the physical processes related to stress.
Biofeedback is able to decrease migraine symptoms significantly; however, it does require motivation from the patient, as you will need to commit to at least 10 to 15 hour-long training sessions and regular practice at home.
Key Takeaway: Biofeedback is able to reduce the symptoms of many migraine sufferers; however, it requires commitment and time from the patient.
5. Injection therapy
Injection therapy may be helpful in reducing pain for some migraine sufferers. After an evaluation, a doctor will administer specific pain medications via injections.
One particular injection that may be helpful in providing people with temporary relief from their migraine pain is a Sphenopalatine Ganglion Block.
SPG blocks involve an injection of a numbing agent through the nostrils (one or both) with a simple applicator.
An analysis by clinicians from Albany Medical Center and the State University New York Empire State College found that this minimally-invasive intranasal treatment lowered the use of pain medication in 88 percent of patients.
Key Takeaway: Injection therapy, or using medications injected into the body, can help people find temporary relief from migraine pain.
There are a variety of natural remedies that may be helpful to migraine sufferers. But these should only be tried with the help of a doctor, especially as some of these may interfere with other medications or health issues.
A few supplements that can be used as a migraine treatment include:
- Vitamin B2. A Belgian study found that 60 percent of people who took 400 milligrams of this vitamin every day had half of their usual number of migraines.
- Feverfew. Feverfew is part of the sunflower family. Studies suggest that taking dried leaf capsules of feverfew every day may reduce the number of migraines in people who have chronic migraines. Feverfew appears to work best on classic migraine associated with sensitivity to light.
- Magnesium. Migraine sufferers have been found to have magnesium deficiencies between migraine attacks. Multiple studies have shown that magnesium supplementation may reduce the frequency of migraines for certain patients.
- Melatonin. A study in the journal Neurology suggests that migraine sufferers may be able to reduce the frequency and severity of their headaches by using melatonin. Two-thirds of study participants who took melatonin before going to bed every night for three months said the number of migraines they experienced dropped by 50 percent.
Key Takeaway: Natural supplements may be helpful in treating migraine, but it’s important to consult a professional before taking any supplements.
7. Lifestyle management
At National Pain Institute, we help our patients adapt to leading a more healthy lifestyle. We can teach you pain management techniques and best practices.
Some suggestions for migraine prevention and treatment include:
- Getting enough sleep (eight hours on a regular basis) is extremely important.
- Daily exercise, along with aerobic exercise at least three times per week.
- Dehydration is a common migraine trigger, so it’s important to stay hydrated every day.
Key Takeaway: Preventing migraines and reducing symptoms is about finding lifestyle management techniques that work for you.
Expert help is usually required to find migraine relief.
To treat and prevent migraine symptoms, a combination of treatments usually works best. But it’s important to seek help from medical doctors specializing in pain care, such as the doctors and professionals at National Pain Institute at multiple locations in Florida (Lake Mary, New Port Richey, Port St. Lucie, Turkey Lake, Lady Lake, and Winter Park).
If you think you might be a migraine sufferer, call us, and we will do our best to find the root cause of your headaches and help you find the relief you’ve been searching for. Dealing with migraines is not an easy process, but we can help. Let us help you.