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Life in Motion

What You Need to Know About Migraines

Pain Management

If you have ever experienced a migraine, you are not alone – they are very common in the US, with over 28 million people estimated to suffer from them. Here, Dana Zalkind, MD, Medical Director of the Pain Management Program at NEBH, explains what a migraine is, what may cause it, and treatment options.

The symptoms of a migraine include an intense throbbing headache that may be accompanied by sensitivity to light, sound, or smell, nausea, vomiting, and dizziness.

A common migraine includes moderate to severe pain and is typically felt on one side of the head, although for some people, it can effect both sides of the head. Usually, this headache has a gradual onset with a crescendo like pattern, and often feels similar to a flu-like illness. It can affect vision, hearing or smell. Patients are often worse with activity and tend to seek rest in a dark, quiet room.

After the headache passes, patients often have mood changes, weakness or are very fatigued.

What Causes Your Migraine?
Although the exact cause of a migraine is not known, many researchers believe that a migraine headache could be caused by abnormal brain stem activity or changes in the trigeminal nerve, which could lead to changes in blood vessels in the brain. Many patients have certain triggering agents or events that lead to a migraine. Examples of different triggering agents include: stress, bright lights, medications, getting too much or too little sleep, certain smells, and foods such as alcohol, cheese, chocolate and foods containing aspartame or MSG. Hormone changes can also affect migraine patterns.

Getting Relief from Your Migraine
There are extensive treatment options to relieve or manage migraine headaches. Treatment options often depend on the severity and frequency of the headaches.

Some medications are used to treat active migraines and other medications are used to prevent migraines. There are extensive medications that have been tried in both categories, such as NSAIDs, anti-nausea medication, beta blockers, anti-convulsants or triptans.

Other therapies, like acupuncture, have been tried for treatment of migraine headaches. More interventional approaches include occipital nerve blocks or trigger point injections.

Botox has been FDA approved as a preventative treatment for chronic migraines. Botox can be given by injection on a three-month interval to reduce the frequency and/or intensity of migraine headaches. Since this is being used as a preventative treatment, it might reduce the need for other medications.

If you suffer from headaches, you should consider consulting with your physician or pain management specialist to determine the exact cause of your headaches and to develop a treatment plan that is optimal for you.

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