For the 29.5 million Americans who suffer from them, there’s no mistaking the misery of a migraine. The pain is throbbing and intense and often accompanied by nausea and sensitivity to sound and light.
Unfortunately, though, many migraine sufferers don’t get the relief they need. Half remain undiagnosed, and many are mistakenly diagnosed with tension or sinus headaches.
To avoid that, it’s important to be very specific about the kind of pain you’re feeling and how it’s affecting your life when you talk to your doctor.
Healing the hurt
Thanks to a class of drugs called triptans that became available in the early 1990s, migraine treatment options have improved dramatically. The reason that they are so good is that they are very specific. They act on certain nerve cell receptors in the brain, so they also have very few side effects.
Non-drug treatments, including acupuncture, biofeedback, massage and heat and cold applications, can also be helpful.
If you suffer two or more migraines a month, preventive medications including beta blockers, calcium channel blockers and certain antidepressants may help reduce the frequency of attacks. Doctors have also found that vitamin B2 and magnesium supplements can contribute to migraine prevention.
Why do they happen?
Despite research advances, doctors still don’t fully understand what causes migraines. It’s thought that the pain stems from an inflammatory process caused by interaction between a cranial nerve and blood vessels in the coverings of the brain.
About 70 percent of migraine sufferers can blame the pain on their genetic inheritance. If one parent suffers from migraines, there’s about a 50 percent chance that a child will get them too.
Gender counts too: Women are three times more likely than men to suffer from migraines; for many women, migraines are linked to hormonal fluctuations.
Triggers can be tricky
What triggers a migraine varies from person to person. Common triggers include diet, emotions (stress or anxiety), lack of sleep, irregular exercise, bright lights, smoke, and even changes in the barometric pressure.
Lifestyle is important. Exercise, good sleep habits and healthy eating may be helpful in preventing frequent migraine headaches.