HEADACHES & MIGRAINES
Almost everyone gets headaches. Headaches can be caused by exercise, food, stress, changes in sleep, hormones, medication, and triggered by other illnesses. Most respond to over-the-counter pain medication, lifestyle changes, or a combination of both. Headaches of any severity can be a nuisance, but frequent, increasingly painful, or sudden and severe headaches should be evaluated by a physician.
What is a Migraine?
Migraines are the most severe and debilitating type of recurring headache. A migraine can cause severe throbbing pain or a pulsing sensation often accompanied by nausea, vomiting, and extreme sensitivity to light and sound. Migraine attacks can last for hours to days, and the pain can be so severe that it interferes with daily activities. Migraines affect more than 37 million people in the U.S. The World Health Organization lists migraine as one of the 10 most disabling medical illnesses on earth. Despite this data, fewer than five percent of those affected have been seen by a health care provider, received an accurate diagnosis, and obtained appropriate care.
Diagnosis & Treatment
If you have a family history of migraines, your doctor will likely diagnose your migraines based on your medical history, symptoms, and a physical and neurological examination. If your condition is unusual, complex, or suddenly becomes severe, your doctor will want to rule out other reasons for your pain by ordering an MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) scan, CT (computerized tomography) scan, or both.
Migraine treatment is primarily aimed at stopping symptoms and preventing future attacks. Medications designed for these purposes fall into two categories: pain-relieving medications, and preventive medications. Pain-relieving medications are taken during a migraine episode and are designed to stop symptoms. Preventive mediations are taken regularly – often daily – to reduce the severity or frequency of migraines. Many migraine patients use a combination of medications to treat their condition. Coupled with the right medication, alternative treatments such as acupuncture, biofeedback, cognitive therapy, vitamins, exercise, even Botox injections, can produce excellent results and give headache and migraine patients the relief they are looking for.
Doing Your Part
It is often advised that patients try to understand and avoid their migraines by keeping a “headache journal”. By logging daily activities, food choices, sleep patterns, and emotions, patients can begin to understand what triggers their migraines and how to take steps to avoid them. If you think you might benefit from peer support, your doctor can put you in touch with local and national groups that provide compassion and networking for those living with migraines.