How to Prevent and Treat Migraine Headaches

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For the millions of migraine sufferers in the United States alone, any sort of migraine treatment is better than nothing. A migraine can come on with or without any sort of noticeable trigger and stay for hours or days at a time. The unspeakable throbbing in the head, sensitivity to light and sound, and debilitating consequences for daily life lead to interesting perspectives on prevention and treatment.

Traditional migraines can occur with or without an aura, meaning they can have (or not have) any visual disturbances. Such visual disturbances include blind spots, seeing colors, or shades of gray and/or black. An ocular migraine includes those types of visual "hallucinations" but they only occur in one eye. The changes to vision are not permanent in either situation, but often send most migraine sufferers to medical clinics. Lewis Carroll, of Alice in Wonderland fame, cited migraine hallucinations as primary sources for the creation of the classic children's book. Migraines, with or without an aura, occur because of changes in the brain's blood vessel. Blood vessels swell, causing inflammation, which then constricts the blood vessels even more. The optical changes noticed in traditional migraines are because of the occipital cortex perceiving changes in vision due to blood vessels and inflammation. With an ocular migraine, however, the visual changes occur in the retinal blood vessels, which are inflamed, and causing visual disturbances.

According to migraine experts, the most common triggers for migraine headaches include stress, lack of sleep, and skipping meals. Other triggers include weather or altitude changes, pollution, smells, any sort of sleep problems, and other senses, like lighting. Foods that include aspartame or MSG (monosodium glutamate) also have been identified as triggers to migraines. Another large trigger is smoking, as it constricts already small blood vessels. Migraines tend to effect women more so than men; estrogen increases the chances of migraines, research states. However, it is unclear how estrogen does this. Some women find that decreased levels of estrogen will cause migraines while others say that too much estrogen caused the problem. Many women find that their natural menses cycle will effect when their next migraine will occur.

Experts say that prevention is the easiest way to deal with a migraine. This means identifying your own pattern of migraine headaches and triggers. Some experts prescribe or recommend non-migraine medications daily in order to prevent migraine headaches. Doctors also state there is a distinct "window of opportunity" in which migraines are starting and can be most easily treated, without them running their course. This timeframe is limited to the first hour of the headache. However, experts admit most migraine sufferers do not want to bring on the unspeakable and convince themselves that they are only having a tension headache.

Once a migraine has started, several types of medication can be used to treat them. Over the counter medications, such as Tylenol or Advil, have helped some migraines while still others utilize other anti-inflammatory agents to treat migraines. These medications focus on helping the body deal with the pain of a migraine. New medications called triptans provide the treatment of the blood vessels, which essentially helps to stop the migraine at its root cause. Such medications include sumatriptan, zolmitriptan, and naratriptan. However, the triptan classification does not help with ocular migraines and could intensify the vision problems leading to vision loss.

However, some migraine sufferers do not feel comfortable always relying on medications to prevent or treat migraines. Doctors suggest, and highly encourage, patients to stay on a consistent schedule for meals and sleeping; disturbances with those daily events could lead to more stress and/or migraines themselves. Others encourage utilizing supplements such as magnesium, riboflavin, and coenzyme Q10. However, they stress that correct dosages should be maintained for at least three months before its intended effects can be perceived. Doctors suggest 500 mg of magnesium, 400 of riboflavin (B-12), and 150 mg of coenzyme Q10. Other types of herbs have anecdotal evidence of assistance in preventative measures; those include butterbur or feverfew. Doctors do warn that there are limited enforcement procedures of herbs; one brand could be more potent than another, so doctors suggest caution and using a reputable brand name. Still other migraine sufferers use acupuncture to relieve migraine pressure and Botox, as its primary usage is paralysis of muscles. Studies are being done to support the anecdotal evidence suggested by Botox promoters. Doctors feel that ocular migraine patients could find sunglasses, either simple or prescription, based on which wavelengths they seem to be having difficulties with.

Despite the once widespread belief that migraines were "just another headache" many advances have been made to understand and treat the source of the problem. As always, consult your doctor for your individual case before adjusting your migraine treatment. Adverse side effects should always be communicated with your doctor.