This article discusses the severity of migraine headaches and the new treatments available and thier effectiveness.
(SLPM Self-care) Migraine headaches invade their victims slowly, leaving a path of pain and misery in their wake.
They never rush, lasting anywhere from several hours to several days. But new medications and treatments can help cut that time in half - even stop it before it starts.
New treatments and drugs like Botox promise to help more than 25 million Americans and 3 million Canadians who suffer the debilitating headaches.
``Every six months or so, a new medication comes out,'' said William Ondo, assistant professor of neurology at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston. ``A lot of them can be affective for abortive or preventative therapy. They can either get rid of the migraine after it starts, or prevent it altogether.''
Migraines usually occur on one side of the head and produce a throbbing sensation. Symptoms include nausea and sensitivity to light and sound. Most, though not all, of the sufferers are women.
``Some people think if they have a bad headache then they have a migraine,'' said Dell McConnell a Canadian physician. ``Migraine is an overused word. They're disabling. For some people, it's a matter of missing work while the migraine is active.''
Migraines don't just cause problems for those who suffer from the headaches. There's a larger economic impact: Nationwide (Canada), more than a quarter billion dollars in productivity is lost every year from people taking sick time from work.
Migraines are usually accompanied by an aura, which involves changes in vision and tingling and numbness in the face and hands.
The cause of migraines is unknown, but they typically involve the dilation and contraction of blood vessels in the head, McConnell said. Stress, certain foods, red wine, depression, lack of sleep and exercise can be triggers. Hormonal changes in women, especially during menstrual cycles, also can trigger a migraine.
Doctors say some people mistake the head pains for other medical problems. Sinus headaches have similar symptoms. Because vision can be affected during a migraine attack, some people might think they're having a stroke.
``Migraines are diagnosed by the characteristics of the pain,'' Ondo said, ``not by the intensity of the pain.''
New products and medications can help fight off these debilitating headaches before they even get started, according to doctors.
Botox - a purified protein derived from bacteria - is used to prevent migraines. The medicine is widely known today as a wrinkle-reducing drug. Ten to 25 injections are usually given in the muscles in the head, neck and shoulders. Patients receive the series of shots about every four months.
No one is sure why the injections work. Some think they block the sensory nerves that carry pain messages to the brain and cause muscles to relax so there is less sensitivity to pain.
It takes about three months before the injections work. They seem to be more helpful in people who have 15 migraines or more a month.
``The biggest advantage to Botox is its lack of side effects, especially compared to other medications,'' McConnell said.
Triptans, a common group of medications for migraines, now can prevent the headaches before they start, if taken early enough. The prescriptions also can help alleviate an active migraine.
Experts at the annual American Headache Society meeting, held in Seattle in June, suggested triptans, such as Imitrex, be taken before skin hypersensitivity - a symptom of migraines - starts. Patients who suffer from this symptom find the lightest touch to be extremely painful.
It's vital that patients learn to recognize the signs and retrain themselves to take the triptans before the headache advances, doctors say.
Over-the-counter medications, such as Excedrin Migraine, work for some people. Shelton said taking the recommended dosage of Tylenol or Bayer combined with a caffeinated drink does the same trick as the specialized medications.
Lifestyle changes, such as exercising, eating healthy and getting the proper amount of sleep, also can help slow the onset of migraines, he added. If all else fails, consult a physician.
``If someone is experiencing migraines two or three times a month, then they probably should seek out a physician and talk about treatments,'' Ondo said. ``If it's disabling them to the point that they can't work, then they might need something stronger than over-the-counter medications.''
Sources include: New York Times, Washington Post and MedlinePlus website