Finding the route to relief
By Brenda Owen
The old adage, "I'll take two aspirin and call the doctor in the morning," will not work with migraines.
Although, there is not acure for migraines, physicians can help patients identify, manage and alleviate symptoms of the disease, says Dr. Kenneth Gaines, a neurologist with Baptist Memorial Hospital - North Mississippi.
The first step for someone who is suffering severe headaches and other migraine symptoms is to see a physician for a proper diagnosis and treatment program, he said. That diagnosis should include a thorough evaluation of the headache to ensure it is not an indication of any number of serious problems, he said.
Once a diagnosis is made, steps should be taken to identify triggers for the attacks. "Triggers are different for different people," Gaines said.
Identifying and avoiding the triggers that can cause headaches is among the most significant management techniques for controlling headache frequency, he said.
Triggers may include one or more of the following categories:
- Dietary factors such as skipping meals, dieting and consuming foods and beverages with caffeine, alcohol, MSG or nitrites.
- Environmental variations such as bright lights, glare, loud noises, strong odors, changes in temperature, weather, humidity or altitude, cigarette smoke and even music.
- Emotional stress such as anger, resentment, depression, anxiety and fatigue.
- Motion from riding trains, planes, automobiles and bikes,
- Physical factors such as irregular exercise, lack of exercise, lack of sleep, too much sleep, eyestrain and fall or head injury
- Hormonal fluctuations such as menstrual cycles, estrogen supplements and oral contraceptives.
- Taking too many over-the-counter pain relievers and analgesics like aspirin and some prescription medications may trigger attacks in some people.
The patient plays an important role in treatment, Gaines said, by learning to recognize and control the signs and trigger factors.
If the physician identifies that medication is appropriate for treatment, there are two categories of medications that are typically used:
- Prophylactic. This type of therapy helps reduce the number of attacks in patients who experience migraine frequently, patients who suffer more than two attacks a month. Prophylactic, or preventive medications are taken on a daily basis.
- Acute. This type of therapy treats the symptoms of the disease after the attack begins. Many medications available to treat an acute attack must be taken as soon as the attack occurs, otherwise they are ineffective.