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Dealing with migraines
October 12, 2017, 4:52 pm

Despite being listed by the World Health Organization (WHO) as the third most prevalent illness in the world — just behind tooth decay and tension-type headaches — migraine is often undiagnosed and generally misunderstood. 

Migraine is described as a condition that produces recurring, severe, often-incapacitating headaches and other debilitating symptoms lasting from a few hours to a few days.
Until quite recently a common remedy for migraine was to lie in a dark room and wait for the pain to pass.  But today, with effective modern treatments, and several new medications specifically formulated for migraine in the pipeline, people no longer need to suffer in the dark.

The first thing to realize about migraine is that it is not just a bad headache. Rather, migraine is a complex neurological disorder where the brain becomes abnormally sensitive to certain stimuli. When the brain is irritated it slows everything down, which is why people cannot see clearly, feel clumsy, cannot think straight, cannot speak well or feel nauseous when afflicted with migraine.

Blood vessels get super-sensitive with increased blood flow, which causes the throbbing pain. At the same time the trigeminal nerve — the large nerve on both sides of the head that supplies sensations to the head and face and controls the muscles used in biting and chewing — begins to send out all sorts of pain signals. However, not all migraine attacks are the same nor are the triggers that initiate them.

Migraine is also genetic in nature. If one of your parents has migraine, there is a 50 percent chance that you will be predisposed to migraine, and, if both your parents have migraine then the chances jump to 75 percent.

Some of the factors than can trigger migraines or make them worse include fluctuations in estrogen levels in women, a drop in barometric pressure (as when a storm is approaching), anything that causes inflammation (such as a cold or any type of infection) and the overuse of over-the-counter medications and prescription opiates. Physical conditions such as obesity and sleep apnea also can contribute, as can lifestyle choices like smoking, drinking alcohol and eating foods high in preservatives and artificial sweeteners.

However, all migraines are not the same nor are the triggers that initiate them; hence each specific attack needs to have tailored treatment regimens. The prescription medications currently used to prevent migraine were all developed for other purposes. These blood pressure medicines, anti-seizure drugs and antidepressants have proven effective in reducing migraine. There is also a whole new class of medications formulated specifically for migraine that are probably going to be released in the next year or two, which should change the face of migraine treatment strategies as we know them.

Moreover, new treatment strategies are not limited to drugs and take an integrative approach that can include sleep studies, psychological counseling, stress reduction and relaxation techniques, as well as physical therapy, exercise and lifestyle changes.

However, no treatment program can totally eliminate migraine as it is genetic in origin. Currently available treatments can, at best, hope to alleviate the suffering and allow people to be in control of their pain, instead of their pain controlling them.

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