Migraine and its management
For years, I have come across patients who claim they have a chest full of medications for their intense headache. Others claimed they have practically tried all pain relievers but the problem recurs.
There are millions of people suffering from chronic pain. Aristotle described pain as a feeling of being an experience opposite to pleasure and the epitome of unpleasantness. It is a conscious recognition of uncomfortable stimuli into the sensory nervous system that one experiences as intolerable.
We have people suffering from cancer, those with muscle spasm, tendonitis, arthritis, migraine, and many more. The medical costs of these debilitating conditions are huge and escalating. The loss of productivity and human suffering are beyond calculation. They also become depressed, which exacerbates physical pain and becomes a vicious cycle. They resort to a “cocktail” approach to deal with chronic diseases and pain such as over-the-counter medications to prescribed drugs as well as those medications to be taken daily for prevention (prophylactic medications).
Migraine is a recurrent headache disorder with intense, pounding or throbbing pain that may be one-sided (unilateral). The debilitating pain continues for a few hours and may even last for days. It is accompanied by vomiting and sensitivity to light (photosensitivity). Before the migraine begins, one experiences an aura which usually consists of zigzag lights or flashing of lights, double vision and to some, hallucinations. The aura is experienced for about 10 to 20 minutes before an attack begins. Some experience sensitivity to sound while others experience a feeling of numbness, speech, or comprehension problems before migraine begins. However, only one-third of individuals who have migraine headaches experience auras.
The exact cause of migraine headaches is unknown. Recent research studies suggest the inflammation in the blood vessels of the brain causes them to swell and put pressure on the nearby nerves, causing pain. The inflammation may arise or stimulated by signals from the main sensory nerve of the face which is the trigeminal nerve. The new evidence led the researchers to conclude that migraines are caused by an upset in the delicate balance of two chemicals in the brain namely, serotonin and norepinephrine.
Serotonin is a substance found naturally in the brain and intestines. It is released from certain cells when the blood vessel walls are damaged. It acts as a strong vessel-narrowing substance. Norepinephrine is a hormone that increases blood pressure by narrowing the blood vessels; however, it does not affect the heart’s output. If the chemicals get out of balance, it sets a chain reaction in the brain which may cause nausea and stabbing pain. The process continues until all of the chemicals involved are used up. Some may have debilitating pain for a few hours while others experience the pain for days.
These chemicals also help determine the body’s natural sleeping and waking patterns. Most migraines occur during times when the body is waking up. Thus, one is three times likely to develop a headache between 6 a.m. and noon as at any other time of the day.
The lifetime prevalence in women is 25 percent and eight percent in men. Women are more susceptible because of their bodies’ delicate balance of hormones. Women whose age range from 45 to 65 are more than three times likely to suffer the debilitating pain. Migraine also affects about 10 percent of children and adolescents.
There are instances that a person with migraine can identify triggers that lead or aggravate the headache. These triggers when avoided may help reduce the frequency or the severity of the migraine. Some triggers include stress and anxiety, lack of sleep or too much sleep; alcohol like beer, red wine; caffeine (too much or too little) such as chocolate, coffee, tea, colas; hormonal changes during the menstrual cycle; bright or flashing light; loud noise; certain foods that contain nitrates such as luncheon meats and hotdogs; food with tyramine such as aged cheese and smoked fish; food enhancer or monosodium glutamate or popularly known as vetsin; nicotine which counteracts headache medicines.
Skipping meals can also trigger a migraine. Make sure you eat something for each meal of the day.
The saying, “Stop it before the headache starts” is one way of managing the throbbing pain. Always be on the look out for red flag signs such as pressure in the temple, tightness of the neck and shoulders and feeling of irritability. These indicators will be a warning for you to take a break, relax and give your mind and body a rest.
There are medications you can take which your family doctor may prescribe. It is important that you have to inform him about all the medications you are taking, including over the counter medicines. This is important because you might be experiencing a rebound or a cycle headache pain that recurs when each dose of medication wears off.
The World Health Organization listed 47 diseases that could be treated using acupuncture. Migraine is one of the medical conditions. Acupuncture has shown to produce endorphins which block pain. A 2009 Cochrane review of acupuncture and prophylaxis for migraine headache analyzed 22 randomized controlled trials with 4,419 patients. The researchers concluded that acupuncture reduces the frequency of migraine headaches when used as an adjunct to, or in place of, medical management. They have also concluded that aside from its analgesic effect, it has also anti-inflammatory and muscle relaxant effects.