One in eight Americans experiences migraines, pulsing, throbbing, painful
headaches that interfere with work, family life and other responsibilities.
A visit with your primary care physician or a specialist in neurology
or physical medicine and rehabilitation (PM&R) can put you on the
path to preventing and relieving the pain.
“There are many options for prevention and treatment,” says
Preeti Panchang, MD, a Valley Health specialist in PM&R. “It’s important to
get help if the pain is disrupting your life.”
Migraine symptoms include nausea, vomiting, and sensitivity to light and
sounds. Some migraine sufferers get warning signals, such as mood changes,
food cravings, or a stiff neck. And others notice an “aura”
before or during their migraine, with vision disturbances like wavy lines
or blind spots. (Seek emergency help right away for a headache that’s
sudden and violent and that comes with stroke symptoms like slurred speech,
confusion, loss of balance or trouble using your arms or legs, or that
comes on after a head injury.)
“First, your doctor will rule out other health conditions that can
cause headaches,” Dr. Panchang says. The next goal: Stop migraines
before they start. “Your doctor will help you spot triggers and
then set up a plan to reduce triggers, such as hunger or stress. This
is an important part of migraine prevention.” If you need more help
for frequent and severe migraines, your doctor may consider preventive
What about pain relief?
For milder pain, over-the-counter pain relievers are often recommended.
For more severe pain, drugs called triptans can stop a migraine before
it gets worse, while others (such as dihydroergotamine) can ease the ache.
When trigger avoidance and medications aren’t enough to control chronic
migraines, a nerve block—an injection at the back of head with a
small needle that blocks the nerve that causes migraine headaches—is
another option for some patients. “And for people who find that
medications lose effectiveness over the years, botulinum toxin injections
that relax muscles involved with migraine—in the forehead, sides
of the head, upper neck and shoulders—can bring relief too.”
Seeing patients able to return to activities they enjoy is rewarding for
Valley Health physicians who treat migraine. “With treatment, you
can get back to the things you love,” adds Dr. Panchang.