Got migraines on your mind? If you’re one of the 30-47 million Americans that suffer from these monster headaches, it’s safe to assume that you do. And whether your migraines rage on for hours—or days—their presence can certainly be debilitating.
Pain in the Brain: Understanding Migraines
To know how to treat migraines, it helps to understand where they come from. A migraine is more than a headache. It’s a complex condition precipitated by both genetic and environmental factors (I’ll touch more on potential triggers in a bit). There is still so much unknown about migraines, but we do know that when they “attack” a chemical imbalance is underway in the brain. Serotonin, one of the good chemicals, helps to regulate pain in the nervous system. During an attack, these levels drop, causing a release of another substance called neuropeptides. The neuropeptide, a Calcitonin Gene-Related Peptide (CGRP), causes vasodilation of the blood vessels. Studies show that CGRP levels increase during a migraine and this may be a major cause behind the headache.
Are you at risk?
Risk factors vary from person to person, however if migraines run in your family you are more likely to be plagued with them as well. Other factors include:
- Age—Migraines usually strike before the age of 40
- Gender—Women are three times more likely to get migraines than men
Some individuals will experience an aura that develops right before an episode. Attacks can last anywhere from 4 to 72 hours. Usually migraines will cause sharp or pulsating pain on one side of the head. This pain is exacerbated by light and sound, and is often accompanied by nausea and vomiting. Many variables are known to trigger migraines, and these also vary per person.
Some triggers include:
- Sensory stimulation
- Bright lights
- Loud sounds
- Unusual smells
- Processed foods
- Artificial sweeteners (such as aspartame and monosodium glutamate)
- Highly caffeinated drinks
- Alcoholic beverages (especially wine)
- Hormones (migraines may precede menstrual cycle)
- Birth control pills
- Change in weather
- Intense physical activity (including sex)
- Too much or too little sleep
When to see a doctor. You should make an appointment with your doctor if you experience any of the following symptoms.
- Stiff neck
- Double vision
- Trouble speaking
- New (unusually intense) headache after 50 years of age
- If symptoms worsen with cough, exertion, or straining
In short, if you find yourself experiencing “the worst headache ever” you may want to see your doctor.
Acute treatment options include:
- Over the counter medicine (Motrin, Aleve, Aspirin, etc…)
- Triptans (Imitrex, Zomig, Axert, etc…)
- Narcotics (Codeine, Hydrocodone, Meperdine, etc…)
Chronic prevention options include:
Additional options with less evidence of efficacy include:
Latest prevention concept:
ClinSearch is currently conducting a study to evaluate the efficacy of a treatment that will block CGRP, the chemical in the brain that causes blood vessels to dilate. If you are interested in learning more about this trial, please call (423) 698-4584 or visit us at ClinSearch.com