Migraine is a common condition affecting more than 37 million people in the United States and up to 148 million worldwide.
According to the World Health Organization, migraines are about twice as common in women as in men. Often times, the primary migraine symptom is moderate to severe headache, and 85 percent of people with migraines experience throbbing pain.
In around 60 percent of people, however, the pain is one-sided and around 80 percent of people experience nausea and 30 percent vomiting.
In addition, almost everyone with migraines has an increased sensitivity to light (90 percent) and noise (80 percent).
Most types of migraines are not serious; however, they can be chronic and sometimes debilitating and disabling if not properly treated. Migraines are actually a primary headache condition and much more than just a headache. In fact, headaches are just a symptom of migraines, and some migraines have no headache at all. Some people experience what is known as a prodrome stage up to a day or two before the onset of a migraine, with subtle changes in their daily routine – a kind of warning time.
Some of the most common prodromal signs are excessive yawning, depression, irritability, and a stiff neck. These warning signs offer the opportunity to start treatment very early in the course of the migraine episode, which significantly increases the chances of success of the treatment.
Drinking caffeinated beverages can trigger a migraine attack, but “caffeine withdrawal” is an even more common migraine trigger. There is no cure for migraines, but medication can certainly help. Several drugs are now available to significantly aid and control migraines, including over-the-counter analgesics, triptans, calcitonin gene receptor peptide antagonists, antidepressants, anti-seizure drugs, and beta-blockers.
Oddly enough, medications can also (ironically) cause headaches themselves, in a phenomenon known as “medication overuse headache” if the rescue medication is taken too often. Plus, following a healthy lifestyle can eventually eliminate the need for prescription headache medication.
There is no specific test used to diagnose migraines. To make an accurate diagnosis, a doctor needs to identify a pattern of recurring headache along with associated symptoms that last for at least three months.
In short, avoiding known triggers can reduce the risk of migraines, but diet is not a cure. The migraine diet cannot remedy lack of sleep, stress, or hormonal changes.
Dietary supplements like magnesium, vitamin D, and vitamin B2 are a major addition to the migraine treatment market, but not a single vitamin or dietary supplement has been shown to help prevent or relieve migraines in everyone. You help some people immensely and do little for others.
In the America I love, scientists are looking for better treatments and maybe they will find a cure one day.
Professor Randolph M. Howes, MD PhD, is a surgeon, scientist, and patient advocate who lives in the Kentwood area.