Almost everyone suffers from headache pain occasionally, but for 36 million Americans, intense, debilitating headaches accompanied by other neurological symptoms — also known as migraine syndrome — are a source of physical misery that can have a devastating effect on their quality of life. It is estimated that the medical expenses and loss of productivity caused by migraine costs Americans $20 billion annually.
Ask any migraine sufferer and they will tell you that migraine is much more than just a bad headache. According to Dr. Rebecca Poetschke, who treats patients at the new migraine clinic at the Women’s Health Center on the campus of ProMedica Herrick Hospital, migraines are actually a group of neurological symptoms that vary widely among sufferers.
The American Migraine Foundation, an American nonprofit organization that supports migraine research, states on its website that migraine symptoms generally include severe, recurring intense pain on one side of the head (although both sides can be affected) accompanied by one or more of the following: visual disturbances, nausea, vomiting, dizziness, extreme sensitivity to sensorial stimulation and tingling or numbness in the extremities or face.
The fact that migraine syndrome involves multiple symptoms that differ from person to person and often change with each migraine episode can make diagnosing the condition challenging.
“Migraine syndrome affects different people in different ways and to different degrees,” notes Dr. Steven Sherman, a neurologist who also treats patients in the migraine clinic at the Women’s Health Center. “For mild cases, some people are able to control their symptoms with lifestyle changes. Medications and other treatments may help more severe cases.”
Although migraine does affect men, almost three times as many women suffer from the syndrome. Migraine can be a genetic disorder, making it common for children whose parents experience migraines to do the same. The American Headache Society estimates that up to 10 percent of children in the United States suffer from migraine.
Despite the widespread occurrence of the condition, many migraine sufferers go undiagnosed. While there is no immediate health risk to delaying treatment other than discomfort and lack of productivity, over the long term, research has shown that migraine sufferers are more susceptible to other health problems including depression, anxiety, sleep disorders, other pain conditions and fatigue.
If you suffer from migraine, or suspect that you do, a visit to your physician can help you determine what action you should take to reduce or eliminate your symptoms.
The key to treating migraine effectively is identifying the patterns of onset and any lifestyle factors that may trigger episodes,” Poetschke says. “Many people can learn to manage migraine effectively and reduce their frequency simply by being aware of things that may bring them on and making changes to avoid their triggers.”
Poetschke suggests patients keep a diary of their migraine patterns and lifestyle habits for several weeks as a tool for determining the frequency and severity of their attacks and what triggers them.
For people who suffer from chronic migraine episodes, additional therapies may be necessary.
“If you are experiencing migraines on a regular basis that are debilitating and impacting your quality of life, you should seek medical attention,” recommends Sherman. “While avoiding triggers is important, for some people medication or other clinical treatments are the only way to get their migraines under control.”
According to Sherman, there are many treatment options for migraine, including oral medications, injections to relax the tight muscles and block nerve pain, and alternative treatments such as acupuncture and massage.