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What's Up Magazine

The Pain of Migraine Headaches

Jan 10, 2018 02:00PM
Migraines are painful, debilitating headaches which can produce severe throbbing and
are usually unilateral (one-sided). According to the National Headache Foundation, they affect nearly 30 million Americans, and women are more prone to experience migraines than men. 

The pain from migraines is usually disabling and interferes with normal activities. Some patients experience an aura, a preceding symptom or a warning sign before the actual headache. Patients can also experience visual phenomena.

They may see flashing lights, jagged linesor colors in their visual fields. Others have experienced unusual smells, dizziness, odd noises, heaviness, and tingling. With severe headaches, patients can experience sensitivity to light and/or noise, and nausea can occur. Other unusual migraine phenomena can cause weakness on one side of the body, vision loss and sharp stabbing pains. Patients often retreat into a dark room and sleep to alleviate the severe pain. 

Migraines can be exacerbated by certain foods, including caffeine and MSG, sleep deprivation, weather changes, menstruation (in women), certain odors, stress, and other environmental factors. Headaches can last 30 minutes to 12 to 24 hours. In unusual cases, patients have suffered with headaches for up to three days. 

Once a patient is diagnosed with migraines, treatment can and should be started immediately. Over the counter pain medications, narcotics, and other pain medicines are not as effective as migraine medications. Overuse of pain medications can cause rebound headaches and can be very difficult to treat.

There are two types of migraine treatment—preventive and acute treatments. Preventive treatment requires taking medication daily, which is used to decrease the frequency and the severity of the headaches and pain. Preventive treatment should be started in patients who suffer more than three headaches a month. Your physician may prescribe preventive medications such as anti-seizure (Topamax, Depakote, Lamictal), anti-depressants (amitriptyline) and anti-hypertensives (propanolol, verapamil). Side effects and effectiveness can vary for each patient, so it’s important to discuss these with your physician. 

The most common acute treatment of migraines is triptans. Triptans are serotonin receptor chemicals that help to treat and abort the acute headaches. The migraine sufferer should take the medication early 
in the development of headaches for it to be effective, as they are less effective once the full headache is onset. Triptans come as pills, nasal sprays, and subcutaneous shots, and there are about seven different triptans available. For patients with heart disease, there is a risk of coronary spasm, so triptans should be used cautiously under the care of a physician. 

The following 
was brought to you by the University of Maryland Baltimore Washington Medical Center.