Health: Understanding and coping with migraines

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Courtesy of Family Features
GET HELP: Don’t let migraines take over your life. Talk to a healthcare provider for treatment and tips to better manage the pain.

Red-hot stabbing pains or like being jabbed with an ice pick – these are just a couple of the ways people describe the pain of migraines.

Nearly 30 million Americans suffer from migraines, with women being afflicted three times more than men.

Migraines are a recurrent headache lasting four to 72 hours. In addition to debilitating pain, migraines can bring a host of other symptoms. A survey by the National Headache Foundation (NHF) revealed that more than 50 percent of respondents said they frequently or always experience symptoms such as nausea, neck pain, or sensitivity to lights, sounds or smells when suffering from a migraine.

Migraine characteristics can include pain typically on one side of the head, pain with a pulsating or throbbing quality, moderate to intense pain that affects daily activities, nausea or vomiting, sensitivity to light or sound, and visual disturbances or aura.

About 20 percent of migraine sufferers experience aura, the warning associated with migraine, from 20 minutes to an hour before the actual onset of migraine.

Diagnosing migraines can be tricky. The Migraine Research Foundation says that since symptoms vary widely, migraine is often misdiagnosed – and is never diagnosed in about half of all sufferers. Your doctor needs to analyze your symptoms, conduct medical tests and eliminate other possible causes of the headache.


There are three approaches to treating migraines – acute, preventive and complementary – all of which should be administered by a qualified physician.

Acute treatment uses drugs to relieve symptoms when attacks happen. The Food and Drug Administration has approved a small number of over-the-counter products to treat migraines. Prescription anti-inflammatory agents may be effective for some migraines. There are more than 100 drugs used in migraine treatment, however, so know that it will take some time to find the right medicine or combination of medicines.

Preventive treatment involves daily medication to reduce the number of attacks and to lessen the pain. With some patients, lifestyle changes can help reduce migraine frequency.

Complementary treatment does not use medication. It involves biofeedback, exercise, relaxation techniques and proper rest and nutrition.


The NHF offers a few tips for dealing with migraine pain and associated symptoms.

Get help from your healthcare provider by discussing with him or her the symptoms of your migraine.

If you experience nausea or vomiting as associated symptoms of your migraine, talk with your healthcare provider about other forms of your medication, such as injections, nasal sprays or tablets that do not require drinking water to take them.

Avoid identifiable migraine triggers and practice a healthy lifestyle.

Track your migraines. Write down when they occur, and take the results to your healthcare professional to review.

The American Headache Society also recommends that you restrict use of acute migraine treatment to no more than nine days per month. If you find that you need more acute medication than that, then migraine prevention therapy is likely needed.  

Talk to your doctor. There is help available that can help you manage migraines and not let them take over your life.