The pounding pain of migraine headaches can leave a person wanting to do nothing more than lay down in a quiet, dark room.
What many migraine sufferers do not know is that new drugs and regimens can arrest the headaches and return patients to more normal lives.
To begin with, many migraine sufferers are untreated or undiagnosed, according to Dr. Dennis Lee of MedicineNet.com.
Lee and others say if you are suffering from recurring headaches that cost you time at work or home, you should consult your family doctor because it may be migraine.
“If we can’t control them, we send them to a neurologist,” said Dr. Elisabeth Lernhardt of Penn Valley. “It’s a brain attack, essentially.”
Pain therapist Dr. Christina Lasich of Grass Valley said she gets aggressive with pain medications for severe migraines and if that does not work, she refers them on to a neurologist.
Old drugs like aspirin and acetaminophen are still prescribed to treat mild migraines. But new drugs have been developed to treat moderate to severe migraines, according to Lernhardt and Lasich.
“They are great, they are fast and not narcotic,” Lernhardt said, “so you don’t get addicted and you don’t get drowsy.”
According to Grass Valley neurologist Dr. William Blaha, new drugs called Triptans “are a revolution in the treatment of headaches.”
Triptans actually abort migraine headaches if used quickly after onset, according to Lee. Early use makes the Triptans more effective, decreases the chance of another migraine for 24 hours and aborts 80 percent of them if taken within two hours of onset.
The Triptans react on a headache generator in the middle of the brain called the Dorsal Raphe Nucleus, Blaha said.
“It’s like a black box with a bundle of nerves set off by stimulus,” Blaha said, like light or sound. “The Triptans work by regulating the nucleus and making it less sensitive to the stimuli.”
According to the McKinley Health Center at the University of Illinois, altered blood flow in the brain is a key element to migraines. The nervous system reacts to things like stress by creating spasms at the base of the brain.
The spasms reduce the flow of blood to the brain and simultaneously, the chemical serotonin is released. In turn, serotonin constricts blood and oxygen supply to the brain.
In reaction to that, arteries within the brain dilate to get more oxygen and that spreading dilation causes the pain of migraines.
There is no known cure for migraines, according to Lee, but people do have ways to deal with it beyond drugs.
“It’s a lifestyle issue,” Lernhardt said. “Know your triggers and avoid them. Look out for things with high histamine counts like red wine, blue cheese, fermented stuff. Loud music can trigger a migraine.”
According to Lee, other migraine triggers include caffeine, chocolate, cigarette smoke, sleep disturbances, and stress. Declining estrogen levels during menstrual periods can also cause migraines for women.
“Maybe you’re physically inactive or exposed to a lot of light and glare,” Blaha said. “Look into your diet and the medicines you are taking.”
Treatment for migraines “is highly individualized,” Blaha said. “Everyone’s different and one should not assume it’s a migraine.”
There is good news as well.
“The one thing that gets better when you get older is your migraines,” Lasich said. “They get better.”
According to the WebMD medical Web site, migraines are most prevalent in people aged 25 to 50. One fourth of all women get them and 8 percent of men.
Most people get common migraine headaches without aura, but some people see an aura around them before or during the event.
The aura often appears as saw-toothed lines, some colorful, some not. There are also bright colored shapes and sometimes blurred or absent vision. Numbness to the face can occur and speech can be disturbed.
Information: Dr. David Haas of the State University of New York’s Upstate Medical University.
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