Migraines are something that seem to be becoming more and more commonplace, now, than in previous years. Currently, there are over 37 million people in the United States suffering from migraines, and an estimated 3 million in Canada. The prevalence of migraines is much higher in woman than men. In Vancouver, Dr. Ali Ghahary sees a number of patients that suffer from this debilitating form of headache, which can affect one’s day-to-day activities such as work and/or school performance, sleep, and can even affect one’s social life. As part of Migraine Awareness Month, Dr. Ali Ghahary writes about migraines and how you can combat them.
What is a migraine?
A migraine is characterized as a severe headache (usually one-sided, but can also affect both sides of the head) that is often accompanied by warning signs such as visual disturbances, sensitivity to light and sound, and nausea and/or vomiting. A migraine can last from hours to days. Approximately 10 to 30 minutes prior to coming down with a migraine, an individual may feel less alert and have sensory disturbances such as flashes of light or an unusual sense of smell and/or taste. This is commonly referred to as “aura.” However, aura-related symptoms do not have to be present. During a migraine, aside from having an intense headache and the aforementioned symptoms above, you may also experience pain behind the eyes and blurred vision or temporary vision loss. There is also something known as the “Prodrome” phase. This usually occurs a few days prior to the migraine, and can result in symptoms such as irritability, frequent yawning, neck pain or stiffness, strange food cravings, constipation and even depression.
How are migraines treated?
While headaches are commonly treated with over-the-counter (OTC) medications such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen, migraines can be harder to treat. While some OTC medications may help, other medications such as Triptans, anti-epileptic drugs and antidepressants have all been known to help in the treatment of migraines. Physicians will also often go the route of prevention. If you suffer from migraines, Dr. Ali Ghahary recommends making certain lifestyle changes, such as smoking cessation, exercise, avoiding alcohol and eliminating trigger-foods. The most common foods known to trigger migraines include chocolate and caffeine. It is also important that you reduce your stress levels and get enough sleep.
If a patient suffers from more than 15 migrainous headaches per month, this is commonly referred to in the medical industry as a “chronic migraine.” There are an estimated 500,000+ Canadians currently living with chronic migraine, though it is something that is considerably undiagnosed; and, unfortunately, the treatment of chronic migraine is much more complex to that of a normal headache or classic migraine. In addition to lifestyle changes, psychotherapeutic approaches may be recommended to aid in chronic migraine treatment, such as meditation and cognitive behavioural therapy. Another treatment that has been shown to effectively treat chronic migraine is Botox and its related counterparts.
While primary care physicians like Ali Ghahary are able to differentiate between and diagnose headaches, migraines and chronic migraine, you may also be referred to a headache specialist, such as a neurologist, who can provide you with further diagnostic testing and treatment options.
Dr. Ali Ghahary also recommends patients keep a migraine diary. This can be done by using a simple journal. There are also smartphone apps, such as Migraine Buddy, that can help you keep track of potential migraine triggers and effective treatment. Migraine Buddy is available for free download from the App Store and Google Play.
For more information on migraines, visit the Canadian Headache Society at migrainecanada.org.