If you think about it, it’s strange that headaches even exist. The brain itself can’t feel pain, so what gives? Most people experience them at some point in their life. They can affect anyone regardless of age, race, and gender.
Almost 30 million people in the United States suffer with migraine headaches. Beth Israel Deaconess Hospital-Plymouth’s Medical Director of Neurology Dr. John Pettinato offers advice on migraine headaches.
WHAT IS A MIGRAINE?
Not every headache is a migraine. When compared with tension or other headache types, migraine headache pain can be moderate to severe. Someone who has less than 15 headache days a month is considered to have episodic headaches. Someone who has more than 15 headache days a month is considered to have chronic headaches. Other differences include the pain’s quality: A migraine headache will cause intense pain that may be throbbing and will make performing daily tasks very difficult.
WHAT ARE SOME SYMPTOMS I SHOULD BE AWARE OF?
Individuals should seek referral to a neurologist, preferably a headache specialist, if they experience any of the following: a stiff neck or fever with a headache or a headache that gets worse when lying down; numbness, dizziness, weakness or difficulty with speech; confusion, drowsiness or loss of consciousness with headaches; headaches for the first time after age 50 or “the worst headache of your life.” Those who develop headaches while on an immunosuppressant, such as chemotherapy or steroids, should also seek help from a neurologist. Migraines are genetic, so if someone in your family has migraines it is a good idea to know the symptoms.
WHAT CAN I DO TO PREVENT MIGRAINES?
Light exercise at least three days a week. Multiple studies show that migraines often become chronic among overweight individuals. For this reason, attaining or maintaining a healthy, normal weight is critical. Drinking plenty of fluids, avoiding stress and getting adequate sleep are also important.
WHAT ABOUT HORMONE FLUCTUATIONS AND MIGRAINES?
Hormonal fluctuations associated with the menstrual cycle can bring on migraines. Hormone therapies that regulate estrogen levels can avert attacks. Women who have migraines with aura should avoid certain birth control pills to prevent an increased risk.
HOW DO I MAKE A MIGRAINE GO AWAY?
There are acute/rescue therapies that are medications you can take to stop the attack. There are also preventive therapies such a daily medications and long term therapies. Millions of migraine sufferers are under-diagnosed and under-treated. Everyone is different. It is important to talk to a neurologist to find out what medications or therapies may be right for you. Concerned about yours or a loved one’s migraines? To schedule an appointment with Dr. John Pettinatio, please call 508-210-5920.