Migraine headaches, a recurrent
throbbing headache often accompanied by nausea and visual disturbance.
Migraines are in the category of headache known as vascular because
they involve interaction between the brain and the cranial blood
vessels of the face, head and neck. There are steps you can take
to ease the pain of migraine headaches. A healthy lifestyle and
common sense are among them.
Identifying and minimizing trigger
Many headache experts emphasize the
importance of carefully trying to determine factors that seem to
trigger headache attacks rather than jumping in immediately with drug
therapy. As might be expected, the list of potential "triggers"
is almost as long as the list of those who suffer from migraines, but
the following seem to be most common -
Dietary factors - Changes in
eating pattern (fasting or missing meals), specific foods (such as
cheese, chocolate), alcohol, excessive caffeine (or sudden withdrawal
from caffeine drinks), food preservatives (the nitrates and nitrites
of cured meats such as cold cuts and hot dogs), and flavorers (MSG or
even salt) can produce headaches in some people.
Hormone and drug factors -
Hormones (as in birth control pills) and the change in hormones at the
time of menstruation are clearly implicated in many women; reserpine
(used in treating high blood pressure) is a drug known to produce
Emotional factors - While the
stereotype of the migraine personality is rigid and compulsive is far
from true for many migraine sufferers, there is general agreement that
when perfectionists are subjected to stress, they are more likely to
have headaches. Biofeedback techniques are being widely employed
for such persons and for many others with no readily identifiable
Environmental factors -
Temperature extremes, cigarette smoke, perfume, glaring light and
sudden changes in barometric pressure can trigger migraines.
Careful drug therapy:
The word "careful" is used to emphasize
the need for attention to both proper use (timing and dosage) and
potential side effects. Indeed, one of the hallmarks of the
modern headache expert is the individualized manner in which he or she
prescribes drugs for a given patient. In addition to the usual
pain relievers such as aspirin, acetaminophen, naproxen sodium and
ibuprofen, the following drugs are in common use for the treatment of
migraine and other headaches -
Ergot alkaloids: Long the
mainstay of migraine treatment, these drugs act to prevent blood
vessels from expanding; therefore, they are most effective in the
early stages of a migraine before the throbbing phase of the headache
becomes established. Because of the critical importance of
dosage and timing with these drugs and the danger of habituation and
other physical side effects, they must be used only under the careful
guidance of a knowledgeable physician.
Anti-depressants: Studies have
demonstrated the effectiveness of these drugs (particularly
amitriptyline) - even in persons without apparent depression.
Obviously, long-term use is less than ideal, but judicious therapy
with anti-depressants may be helpful in some people.
Propranolol: This drug is being
widely used in headache treatment programs. It has the apparent
advantage of minimal side effects when compared to other standard
migraine drugs and reports thus far support its effectiveness in many
Diuretics: Women who suffer from
menstrual headaches may benefit by taking diuretic pills to promote
fluid loss at the time of their period.
If prescription drugs are recommended,
follow directions carefully.
Rest and get adequate amounts of sleep
but not oversleeping. When headaches strike, go to a quiet,
darkened room, lie down with eyes closed and relax your body.
Avoid intake of chocolate, aged cheese, red wine and food additives
such as nitrates and monosodium glutamate, which may increase
symptoms. Keep a record of the possible foods or agents that
trigger your migraine attacks. Drink plenty of water and avoid
alcohol and caffeinated drinks. Be sensitive to and avoid your
Exercise regularly and try to stay
physically active. You may also reduce the occurrence of a
migraine headaches attack by learning relaxation techniques.
If you suffer from migraine or cluster
headaches, consult your doctor or your professional physician for
professional assessment and treatment to be recommended.
When a common vascular headache
continues despite one week of self-care remedies, consult and work
with your doctor to find a treatment plan that will help you.
Several prescription drugs prescribed by a qualified professional
physician, can stop a chronic migraine headaches. However,
doctors warn against over-reliance on any OTC medications which can
lead to more frequent "rebound" headaches.