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Migraine Headache

What Is a Migraine Headache?

A migraine’s agonizing torment An severe pulsing or throbbing pain in one area of the head is a common description of a headache. It is often accompanied by extreme sensitivity to light and sound, nausea, and vomiting. Migraine is three times more common in women than in men. Some individuals can predict the onset of a migraine because it is preceded by an “aura,” visual disturbances that appear as flashing lights, zig-zag lines, or a temporary loss of vision. People with migraine tend to have recurring attacks triggered by a lack of food or sleep, exposure to light, or hormonal irregularities (only in women).

It is possible to cause anxiety, stress, or relaxation following stress. For many years, researchers thought that the expansion and contraction of the blood vessels in the brain were related to headaches. Investigators now believe that migraine is caused by inherited abnormalities in genes that control the activities of certain cell populations in the brain.

Headaches affect millions of Americans. The three most common types of chronic headaches are migraines, cluster headaches, and tension headaches. Each comes with its own telltale brand of pain.


Consist primarily of throbbing pain, with intermittent additions of additional symptoms like nausea and vision issues. Migraines are more frequent in women than men. Stress can trigger a Migraine Headache, and migraines can also put the sufferer at risk for stroke.

Cluster Headaches

is characterized by sharp, intense pain on one side of the head; it affects men more often than women.

Tension Headaches

are commonly equated to the head being tightly bound.

What Is the Prognosis for a Migraine Headache?

Taking a combination of drugs to prevent and treat migraine attacks when they happen helps most people with migraine to limit the disabling effects of these headaches. Women whose migraine attacks occur in association with their menstrual cycle are likely to have fewer attacks and milder symptoms after menopause.

What Research is Being Done for Migraine Headache?

According to research, basic neurological anomalies brought on by genetic brain mutations are the root cause of migraine. Investigations of the rare, familial subtypes of migraine are yielding information about specific genes and what they do, or don’t do, to cause the pain of Migraine Headaches. Understanding the cascade of biological events that happen in the brain to cause a migraine, and the mechanisms that underlie these events will give researchers opportunities to develop and test drugs that could prevent or interrupt a migraine attack.
For further information visit the following websites:


American Council for Headache Education
19 Mantua Road
Mt. Royal, NJ 08061
[email protected]
Tel: 856-423-0258 800-255-ACHE (255-2243)
Fax: 856-423-0082
National Headache Foundation
820 N. Orleans
Suite 217
Chicago, IL 60610-3132
[email protected]
Tel: 773-388-6399 888-NHF-5552 (643-5552)
Fax: 773-525-7357

Is There a Treatment for Migraine Headache?

There are two ways to approach the treatment of Migraine Headaches with drugs: prevent the attacks or relieve the symptoms during the attacks. Many people with migraine use both approaches by taking medications originally developed for epilepsy and depression to prevent future attacks, and treating attacks when they happen with drugs called triptans that relieve pain and restore function. Some women whose migraines appear to be related to their menstrual cycle may benefit from hormone therapy. Stress management strategies, such as exercise, relaxation, biofeedback, and other therapies designed to help limit discomfort, may also reduce the occurrence and severity of migraine attacks. The following is a list of methods for treating or avoiding migraines.

The goal of pain management is to improve function, enabling individuals to work, attend school, or participate in other day-to-day activities. Patients and their physicians have a number of options for the treatment of pain; some are more effective than others. Sometimes, relaxation and the use of imagery as a distraction provide relief. These methods can be powerful and effective, according to those who advocate their use. Whatever the treatment regime, it is important to remember that pain is treatable. The following treatments are among the most common.


is the basic ingredient found in Tylenol and its many generic equivalents? It is sold over the counter, in a prescription-strength preparation, and in combination with codeine (also by prescription).


are sometimes used for the treatment of pain and, along with neuroleptics and lithium, belong to a category of drugs called psychotropic drugs. In addition, anti-anxiety drugs called benzodiazepines also act as muscle relaxants and are sometimes used as pain relievers. Physicians usually try to treat the condition with analgesics before prescribing these drugs.


For years, people have taken medications to stop frequent migraines, such as Inderal. They have been successful in many patients, in cutting down the frequency of the attacks.


are used for the treatment of seizure disorders but are also sometimes prescribed for the treatment of pain. Carbamazepine in particular is used to treat a number of painful conditions, including trigeminal neuralgia. Another antiepileptic drug, gabapentin, is being studied for its pain-relieving properties, especially as a treatment for neuropathic pain.


refers to the class of drugs that includes most painkillers, such as aspirin, acetaminophen, and ibuprofen. The word analgesic is derived from ancient Greek and means to reduce or stop pain. Nonprescription or over-the-counter pain relievers are generally used for mild to moderate pain. Prescription pain relievers, sold through a pharmacy under the direction of a physician, are used for more moderate to severe pain.


dates back 2,500 years and involves the application of needles to precise points on the body. It is part of a general category of healing called traditional Chinese or Oriental medicine. Acupuncture remains controversial but is quite popular and may one day prove to be useful for a variety of medical conditions as it continues to be explored by practitioners, patients, and investigators.


is the basic ingredient found in Tylenol and its many generic equivalents? It is sold over the counter, in a prescription-strength preparation, and in combination with codeine (also by prescription).


may be the most widely used pain-relief agent and has been sold over the counter since 1905 as a treatment for fever, headache, and muscle soreness.


is the basic ingredient found in Tylenol and its many generic equivalents? It is sold over the counter, in a prescription-strength preparation, and in combination with codeine (also by prescription).


is used for the treatment of many common pain problems, most notably headaches and back pain. Using a special electronic machine, the patient is trained to become aware of, follow, and gain control over certain bodily functions, including muscle tension, heart rate, and skin temperature. The individual can then learn to effect a change in his or her responses to pain, for example, by using relaxation techniques. With few side effects, biofeedback is frequently used in conjunction with other therapeutic modalities. Similarly, the use of relaxation techniques in the treatment of pain can increase the patient’s feeling of well-being.


refers to hand manipulation of the spine, usually for relief of back pain, and is a treatment option that continues to grow in popularity among many people who simply seek relief from back disorders. It has never been without controversy, however. Chiropractic’s usefulness as a treatment for back pain is, for the most part, restricted to a select group of individuals with uncomplicated acute low back pain who may derive relief from the massage component of the therapy.

Cognitive-behavioral therapy

involves a wide variety of coping skills and relaxation methods to help prepare for and cope with pain. It is used to treat cancer pain, labor discomfort, and postoperative pain.


may provide much-needed support to a patient who is experiencing pain, whether it comes via family, group, or individual therapy. Support groups can provide an important adjunct to drug or surgical treatment. Psychological treatment can also help patients learn about the physiological changes produced by pain.

COX-2 inhibitors

(“superaspirins”) may be particularly effective for individuals with arthritis. For many years scientists have wanted to develop the ultimate drug-a drug that works as well as morphine but without its negative side effects. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) work by blocking two enzymes, cyclooxygenase-1 and cyclooxygenase-2, both of which promote the production of hormones called prostaglandins, which in turn cause inflammation, fever, and pain. Newer drugs, called COX-2 inhibitors, primarily block cyclooxygenase-2 and are less likely to have gastrointestinal side effects sometimes produced by NSAIDs. may follow. Cardiac adverse effects have forced the removal of the Cox-2 drug Viox and others such as Celebrex may follow.

Electrical Stimulation

including transcutaneous electrical stimulation (TENS), implanted electric nerve stimulation, and deep brain or spinal cord stimulation, is the modern-day extension of age-old practices in which the nerves of muscles are subjected to a variety of stimuli, including heat or massage. Electrical stimulation, no matter what form, involves a major surgical procedure and is not for everyone, nor is it 100 percent effective. Each of the following methods needs specialized tools and individuals who have been instructed in the particular approach being used:


has come to be a prescribed part of some doctors’ treatment regimes for patients with pain. Because there is a known link between many types of chronic pain and tense, weak muscles, exercise-even light to moderate exercise such as walking or swimming can contribute to an overall sense of well-being by improving blood and oxygen flow to muscles. Just as we know that stress contributes to pain, we also know that exercise, sleep, and relaxation can all help reduce stress, thereby helping to alleviate pain. Numerous low back pain sufferers have found success with exercise. It is important, however, that patients carefully follow the routine laid out by their physicians.


first approved for medical use by the American Medical Association in 1958, continues to grow in popularity, especially as an adjunct to pain medication. In general, hypnosis is used to control physical function or response, that is, the amount of pain an individual can withstand. How hypnosis works is not fully understood. Some believe that hypnosis delivers the patient into a trance-like state, while others feel that the individual is simply better able to concentrate and relax or is more responsive to suggestions. Hypnosis may result in the relief of pain by acting on chemicals in the nervous system, slowing impulses. Whether and how hypnosis works involve greater insight and research into the mechanisms underlying human consciousness.

Nerve blocks

employ the use of drugs, chemical agents, or surgical techniques to interrupt the relay of pain messages between specific areas of the body and the brain. There are many different names for the procedure, depending on the technique or agent used. Types of surgical nerve blocks include neurectomy; spinal dorsal, cranial, and trigeminal rhizotomy; and sympathectomy, also called sympathetic blockade

Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)

(including aspirin and ibuprofen) are widely prescribed and sometimes called non-narcotic or non-opioid analgesics. They work by reducing inflammatory responses in tissues. Many of these drugs irritate the stomach and for that reason are usually taken with food. Despite the possibility of some anti-inflammatory effects, acetaminophen is typically set apart from conventional NSAIDs.


are made from the poppy plant and are some of the earliest medicines ever used by humans. They include codeine and perhaps the most well-known narcotic of all, morphine. There are several ways to deliver morphine, including a pump for self-administration by the patient. Opioids have a narcotic effect, that is, they induce sedation as well as pain relief, and some patients may become physically dependent upon them. For these reasons, it is important to closely monitor patients who are administered opioids; in some circumstances, stimulants may be taken to offset the sedative side effects. In addition to drowsiness, other common side effects include constipation, nausea, and vomiting.

Physical Therapy and Rehabilitation

date back to the ancient practice of using physical techniques and methods, such as heat, cold, exercise, massage, and manipulation, in the treatment of certain conditions. The patient’s recovery could be sped up by using these to enhance function, control discomfort, and manage the patient.


offer some individuals pain relief although whether and how they have an effect is mysterious and somewhat controversial. Placebos are inactive substances, such as sugar pills, or harmless procedures, such as saline injections or sham surgeries, generally used in clinical studies as control factors to help determine the efficacy of active treatments. Although placebos have no direct effect on the underlying causes of pain, evidence from clinical studies suggests that many pain conditions such as Migraine Headache, back pain, post-surgical pain, rheumatoid arthritis, angina, and depression sometimes respond well to them.

This positive outcome is known as the placebo effect, which is defined as the potential change in patients following the administration of a placebo. Some experts believe the effect is psychological and that placebos work because the patients believe or expect them to work. Others say placebos relieve pain by stimulating the brain’s own analgesics and setting the body’s self-healing forces in motion. A third theory suggests that the act of taking placebos relieves stress and anxiety which are known to aggravate some painful conditions and, thus, cause the patients to feel better. Still, placebos are considered controversial because by definition they are inactive and have no actual curative value.

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