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Living with migraine: Common condition disrupts life for millions

Mary Beth TeSelle
Special to The Union

Debilitating pain, overwhelming nausea, and, at times, an inability to function… These are all signs of a condition estimated to affect more than 38 million Americans – migraines.

According to the Migraine Research Foundation, migraine is the third most common illness in the world. Nearly one in four US households include someone living with the condition and nearly 13 percent of all Americans (including children) experience chronic migraines.

The pain of a migraine is distinct for anyone who has experienced it. The pain is typically so intense, it affects a person’s ability to perform normal daily tasks.

Most migraine sufferers report pain that is severe and throbbing pain – usually on one side of the head, but sometimes both sides. It may also worsen when you move, cough or sneeze.

Other common migraine symptoms include:

— Visual disturbances

— Nausea and/or vomiting

— Dizziness

— Extreme sensitivity to sound, light, touch and/or smell

— Tingling or numbness in the extremities or face

For some sufferers, the pain becomes so severe that they seek emergency care. In fact, the Migraine Research Foundation reports that every ten seconds someone in the US goes to the emergency room complaining of head pain – of those, 1.2 million end up being diagnosed as acute migraine attacks.

Risk factors for migraine are simple: You are more likely to suffer migraines if you are a woman and if you have a family history. Three times more women than men experience migraines and 90% of migraine sufferers have close relatives who have also lived with the condition.

In addition, there are some unrelated medical conditions that can increase your risk, including depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, sleep disorders and epilepsy.

Anyone experiencing a migraine-type headache for the first time should see their doctor for diagnosis and treatment recommendations.

This will allow the doctor to rule out any other health problems or concerns. Once a diagnosis of migraine is made, the patient and their medical team can begin to discuss ways to prevent migraine, as well as develop a treatment plan.

Because there is no cure for migraines, treatment is typically focused on relieving symptoms and preventing additional attacks. According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, medications used to treat migraines include triptan drugs (which reduce swelling blood vessels), ergotamine drugs (which narrow blood vessels and affect blood flow patterns around the brain), and pain relievers. With all types, the sooner the medication is taken after the onset of symptoms, the better it will be at relieving migraine symptoms.

Homeopathic methods of pain relief include:

— Rest in a quiet, dark room

— Placing a cool, wet cloth or ice pack on the forehead

— Drinking plenty of fluids

Some research points to potential triggers for migraine episodes. These may include stress, anxiety, hormonal changes, bright or flashing lights, strong smells, too much or too little sleep, and sudden changes in weather or environment. Certain foods have also been identified as potential triggers for some people, including alcohol, chocolate, aged cheese, MSG, fermented or pickled foods, yeast and processed meats.

It can be difficult to pinpoint what your particular triggers may be for migraine, so it can be helpful to both yourself and your physician if you keep a diary of symptoms. By tracking your activities and general health prior to the onset of a migraine, you may be able to identify a pattern or a trigger.

In general, reducing stress, eating a healthy diet and exercising regularly are found to be helpful with any chronic condition, including migraine.

If you or your child is experiencing recurring headaches that affect daily activities, talk to your doctor. If migraines are suspected, keep a daily log and work with your physician to develop a prevention and treatment plan.


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