The Mother of All Headaches

By Michelle Gamble

June is National Migraine Awareness Month

If you are unsure of the difference between a headache and a migraine, chances are, you’ve never experienced a migraine. Its symptoms are unlike any other headache. Migraines are an inherited tendency to experience painful headaches that include disturbed vision, sensitivity to light, sound and smells, feeling sick, and vomiting. Migraine attacks can cause sufferers to cover windows to block light and rest in bed for hours or even days.

According to Dr. Sami Moshi, board certified neurologist at Adventist Health Lodi Memorial, “In more than 80 percent of patients, the onset of migraines is before 30 years of age.” Dr. Moshi also adds that the percentage of sufferers changes per race and gender. Migraines respectively occur in women at rates of 20 percent in whites, 16 percent in Africans, and 19 percent in Asians. For white, African, and Asian men the breakdown is lower at respectively nine, seven, and four percent.

Migraine treatment like most modern medicine is evolving and improving. Dr. Moshi explains that overall management of migraines has two approaches: try and lower the number of migraine episodes through preventative methods and try different medications.

Preventative techniques include elimination of known causes such as alcohol consumption and some foods. Known food triggers vary from person to person. Some common food culprits include those that contain tyramine or phenylethylamine, two amino acids found in chocolate, aged or fermented cheese (e.g., cheddar, blue, Brie, and all hard and “moldy” cheeses), soy, nuts, citrus fruits, and vinegar (red and balsamic). Lifestyle changes can also prevent migraines, including more exercise, better sleep, and avoiding stress and situations that create anxiety.

Should changes in diet and lifestyle fail, a number of drugs can also prevent migraines. These medications include beta-blockers, blood pressure medications, seizure drugs like valproic acid and topimarate, and some antidepressants Over-the-counter food supplements such as riboflavin and CoQ10 also prevent recurrent episodes.

Migraine attacks can be treated with NSAIDs, including Ibuprofen and naproxen. Other medications known as “triptans” can be used for severe cases. Sometimes migraine attacks become so intense that patients must go to the doctor’s office to be injected with drugs such as toradol or even steroids. An emerging treatment has been found using Botox injections done in the doctor’s office. Small injections of Botox are made into shallow muscles in seven areas of the head and neck.