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Migraine Headaches: Go Away!

September 22, 2017
Plain English Version

k Migraine headache sufferer.

Many suffer from migraine headaches. One wrote:

If you’ve never had a migraine, I have two things to say to you:

 1) You’re damn lucky.

2) You can’t begin to imagine how awful they are.

Millions of people get migraine headaches. Most of them are women. Migraines can begin in childhood. They become more common in the teen years. They peak in most people between the ages of 35 to 39.

The science is not clear. The old belief was that migraines came from swollen blood vessels. They result from throbbing that tended to affect one side of the head. The pain was awful. The treatments ranged from over-the-counter drugs like NSAIDs and ibuprofens to prescribed drugs. All have side effects that limit their use.

The use of M.R.I.s and PET scans produced new information. One expert said migraines are not just pains in the head. Rather, they are a body-wide disorder. Recent research has shown migraines are “an abnormal state of the nervous system involving multiple parts of the brain.”

Neurologists now approach migraines as a brain-based disorder. Symptoms and signs can start a day or more before the onset of head pain. They can persist for hours or days after the pain subsides.

There is new knowledge. Potent treatments are already available or are in development. With their use, migraines will be less disruptive. Unfortunately, the cost will limit their accessibility for some.

The new therapies need patients to recognize and respond to the warning signs of a migraine. The warning signs include symptoms like yawning, irritability, fatigue, food cravings and sensitivity to light and sound. These can occur a day or two before the headache. It is the “prodromal” phase.

After a migraine attack subsides, there are often “postdromal” symptoms. They include fatigue and depressed mood. There are cognitive effects like poor concentration. Some doctors may order brain-imaging studies. They do this to rule out more serious problems such as tumors or clots.

There are new brain-based remedies. They include hand-held or headband devices such as the Single-pulse TMS and the Cefaly t-SNS. These devices send magnetic or electrical energy to nerves through the skull to the brain.

Every migraine sufferer has a story. The good news is that help is on the way.

Source: The New York Times September 19, 2017

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