What really is migraine? Some people casually use the term to describe a bad headache. But the millions who have been diagnosed with a migraine condition know that it’s so much more than that. In addition to severe head pain that can last for hours or even days, they may also experience nausea, vomiting and extreme sensitivity to light or sound.
Are there effective treatments for preventing debilitating migraine attacks? New guidelines say yes, but many people are not taking advantage of these treatments.
Migraine is a condition involving recurring headaches that often can last anywhere from two hours to four days, and can completely interrupt your daily activities, impair your work performance and affect your family obligations. Research shows that many treatments can help prevent migraines, yet few people use these preventive treatments, according to new guidelines issued by the American Academy of Neurology and American Headache Society.
“Studies show that migraine is under recognized and undertreated,” says guideline author Dr. Stephen Silberstein of Jefferson Headache Center at Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia and Fellow of the American Academy of Neurology. “About 38 percent of people who suffer from migraine could benefit from preventive treatments, but less than a third of these people currently use them.”
Unlike acute treatments, which are used to relieve the pain of a migraine attack when it occurs, preventive treatments usually are taken every day to lessen the frequency, severity and duration of attacks.
“Some studies show that migraine attacks can be reduced by more than half with preventive treatments,” Silberstein says.
Some over-the-counter treatments may offer relief for migraine sufferers.
Several herbal preparations, vitamins and minerals are used for preventing migraine. The guideline research found that the herbal supplement Petasites, also known as butterbur, is effective in preventing migraine attacks. There is moderate evidence that riboflavin (vitamin B2), the mineral magnesium and the herbal preparation MIG-99 (Feverfew) can help prevent migraine.
In addition, several drugs for inflammation have been studied for migraine prevention. These are known as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs or NSAIDs. Evidence shows the NSAIDs fenoprofen, ibuprofen, ketoprofen, naproxen and naproxen sodium can help prevent migraine attacks.
Silberstein notes that while people do not need a prescription from a physician for these over-the-counter and complementary treatments, they should still see their doctor regularly for follow-up. You can learn more about the guideline recommendations at http://www.aan.com/guidelines.
Some prescription drugs help prevent migraine attacks, too.
The blood pressure drugs metoprolol, propranolol and timolol have been shown to be effective. The depression drugs amitriptyline and venlafaxine, as well as epilepsy drugs divalproex sodium, sodium valproate and topiramate can help prevent future occurrences of migraine. It’s important to discuss prescription drug options with your doctor to see if one is right for you.
What other steps can you take to avoid migraine attacks?
In addition to preventative treatments, it’s wise to avoid common migraine triggers. In some people, migraine headaches can be triggered by certain foods and beverages, according to the American Headache Society. Skipped meals, dehydration, strong odors and bright lights are other factors to avoid if possible.
“Migraines can get better or worse over time,” Silberstein says. “People should discuss these changes in the pattern of attacks with their doctors and see whether they need to adjust their dose or even stop their medication, or switch to a different medication.”