If you’ve ever experienced a migraine, you know it’s much more than just a garden variety headache. The classic migraine can be a throbbing, pulsating, one-sided headache that worsens with activity. There are also other common symptoms, including light and sound sensitivity, nausea, vision changes and vomiting. Approximately 20 percent of migraine sufferers also experience an aura, which can produce unusual visual changes, as well as tingling, numbness, dizziness and weakness.
Although migraines can produce debilitating symptoms, less than half of all migraine sufferers have been diagnosed. (source: National Headache Foundation) This may be partially due to the myths and stigma about the disease that prevent some from seeking treatment. The reality is migraines are a very real disease that can have a profound impact on quality of life. It may also affect other areas of health and well-being.
In a recent study published in The BMJ, women diagnosed with migraines had an increased risk of heart attack, stroke and other forms of cardiovascular disease. The study also concluded that these women are more likely to die from these conditions than those who do not suffer from migraines. It’s likely that these findings will lead to more research to determine if migraine treatment may reduce associated risks for other conditions.
“It’s also important to note that underlying conditions, including high blood pressure and sleep apnea, which can lead to cardiovascular disease, can contribute to chronic headaches,” says Dr. Paul Wright, Chairman, Department of Neurology, North Shore University Hospital. “This highlights the importance of getting a professional diagnosis if you’re experiencing headaches on a regular basis.”
Treatment Options for Migraine Sufferers
While there is still much to learn about the causes of migraine and how it is related to other conditions, many advancements have been made in migraine treatment. In other words, there is no reason to struggle with migraine alone. For many women, today’s acute and preventive therapies, along with headache hygiene can dramatically reduce symptoms and improve quality of life.
Acute Therapies – Available since the 1990s, Triptans are now commonly prescribed to treat migraine symptoms. These medications can help relieve pain, as well as control symptoms like nausea and vomiting.
Preventive Therapies – Currently the most commonly prescribed medications for migraine prevention include:
- Beta Blockers – Cardiovascular drugs that are also used to treat high blood pressure and coronary artery disease.
- Calcium Channel Blockers – High blood pressure medications that can be particularly helpful in preventing migraines with aura.
- Tricyclic Antidepressants – Used to treat depression, these medications can reduce the frequency of migraines by affecting the level of serotonin and other brain chemicals.
- Anti-Seizure Medications – Some anti-seizure medications may reduce the frequency of migraines.
- Botox Injections – This relatively new treatment can reduce the frequency of headaches in chronic migraine sufferers who have 15 or more headaches a month.
While medication can help manage symptoms of migraine and even help prevent them from occurring, lifestyle changes can also be extremely beneficial. This includes developing healthy habits for sleeping, eating, exercise and stress management. Additionally, non-traditional therapies, such as acupuncture, biofeedback, massage therapy and cognitive behavioral therapy, can also help manage symptoms of chronic migraine pain.
“The good news is that there are wonderful treatments for migraine sufferers,” says Dr. Wright. “There is no reason to suffer in silence from this very real condition that can greatly impact daily life.”
If you suffer from migraines, the first step to determine the best treatment options is to track headaches and to identify triggers that contribute to them. There are a variety of apps that can help you manage information pertaining to migraine and recurrent headaches to help make a more accurate diagnosis and to determine the effectiveness of treatment.
“It’s important to keep track of when you experience a migraine and what led up to it,” says Dr. Noah Rosen, director of the Headache Center at Northwell Health Neuroscience Institute. “As well, talk to others in your family about your headaches and find out if those who are related to you have experienced similar symptoms. Most importantly, if your headaches are disrupting your life, get help.”
Katz Institute for Women’s Health is here to answer your questions about migraines. Call the Katz Institute for Women’s Health Resource Center at 855-850-5494 to speak to a women’s health specialist.