Expert Health Articles

Migraine Headaches

Cheri Diller, MD

Bluffton Primary Care

Migraines are usually characterized by a pounding pain in your head, or a dull steady ache. Sometimes they occur on one side of the head, and can be accompanied by nausea, vomiting and light or sound sensitivity. They can last anywhere from a few hours to several days. Migraines can severely interfere with a person’s quality of life. Research shows that the tendency to develop migraines may be inherited.

Migraines that are intermittent can be treated with medication, i.e. Tylenol, Ibuprofen or Excedrin Migraine. Imitrex is an example of a prescription medication that works well as “rescue therapy,” but will not prevent the next migraine. Your physician may recommend daily medication for frequent migraine headaches. Daily medications to prevent migraines include antidepressants, blood pressure medications and even medications used to treat seizures. Botox injections are now available from some practitioners and may be helpful for chronic headaches. Other treatment options include chiropractic care, acupuncture, biofeedback, relaxation training, meditation and yoga. Regular exercise has also been shown to reduce migraine frequency. Applying peppermint oil on the temples and forehead can also help decrease the intensity of a headache. Massage and stretching may help, because a migraine can predispose individuals to develop muscle contraction headaches.

It’s also important to identify and avoid triggers. Alcohol in general, and particularly red wine can precipitate a headache. Other triggers can include bright lights (like a reflection off a chrome bumper), certain foods – cheese for example and changes in barometric pressure. Some individuals are affected by stress – or even find they get a migraine when the stress is over – like after exams. It’s quite common for migraines to be linked to hormonal changes. For instance, some women tend to have migraine headaches prior to their menses each month. Additional triggers may include skipping meals, sleep deprivation and excessive medication use. The overuse of over-the-counter medications may lead to “rebound headaches.” Using too much caffeine or caffeine withdraw may cause headaches, but in a headache crisis, caffeine may help relieve the pain.

20 to 30% of migraine sufferers experience auras, which may include a number of reversible symptoms, like visual changes that occur before the headache onset.

There are many therapeutic options for the treatment of migraine headaches. However, if you experience the worst headache of your life or an unusual or persistent headache, contact your health care provider as soon as possible.