Approximately 39 million Americans experience migraines, including men, women and children. A migraine is a type of headache that can be moderate to severe in intensity, pulsating, unilateral, and last between 4-72 hours. It can also be accompanied by sensitivity to light, sounds and smells, nausea and/or vomiting, but symptoms can vary from person to person and from migraine to migraine. While the precise cause of migraines is unknown, those with a family history of migraines tend to be at a higher risk of developing them.
Migraines can happen to anyone, and in many cases, over-the-counter medication can relieve the symptoms of an occasional migraine. If you get to the point where you need to take something every day, talk to your doctor. Daily use of pain relievers can end up causing migraines, making the chronic condition worse. When you start to experience them on a regular basis and they start to interfere with your daily activities, it may be time to talk to your doctor about treatment options.
Other symptoms that you should talk to your doctor about may include vision changes, fever, confusion and weakness.
Depending on the triggers of the migraines, treatment must be individualized to each patient, and often involves a combination of medications and lifestyle modifications. Keeping a headache diary can help you track different migraine triggers so you can find ways to reduce their impact. Reducing stress, getting enough sleep, staying hydrated, exercising regularly or avoiding food triggers (such as red wine, chocolate, diet sweeteners or caffeine) are lifestyle modifications you can make yourself that can make an impact on the number of migraines you have, but they aren’t a guaranteed cure.
When lifestyle changes aren’t enough, your doctor may recommend other treatment such as over-the-counter medication to treat migraines when you get them, a prescribed medication that is taken daily to help prevent them or Botox injections. It’s important to treat migraines quickly and aggressively to stop them before they get worse. Unfortunately, migraines cause more migraines, so preventing one from progressing can help prevent them from occurring later.
If you or someone you know is experiencing migraine symptoms, and over-the-counter medicines are no longer working, it is time to seek the help of a headache specialist. The exceptional team of medical providers at Cone Health are dedicated to treating people who suffer from migraines and restoring their quality of life.
Dr. Antonia Ahern is a neurologist at Guilford Neurological Associates and a member of the Cone Health Medical Group. Dr. Ahern completed medical school at Virginia Commonwealth University School of Medicine. She completed both her residency and fellowship at Georgetown University Hospital.