Migraines For Dummies book cover

Migraines For Dummies

Authors:
Diane Stafford ,
Jennifer Shoquist
Published: January 31, 2003

Overview

If you get migraines you know how laughable it is to hear them described as “headaches.” As one poet put it, “the migraine is a beast from Hell, a bone-crushing, brain-twisting, heart-rending, apocalyptic scourge—an insult to all that’s holy.” And that’s putting it mildly. People have been trying to tame the migraine beast for thousands of years. Some early healers bored holes into their patients’ skulls, the Greeks inhaled the smoke of burning coffee beans, while in ancient Egypt, doctors tied herb-stuffed clay crocodiles to migraine sufferer’s heads. Fortunately, we live in more enlightened times and there are now medically sound approaches that are relatively simple and inexpensive—and they don’t leave scars or involve extreme fashion statements.

Your complete guide to taking charge of your migraines and getting your life back, Migraines For Dummies offers a focused, fleshed-out program that works in the real world. This friendly guide fills you in on what you need to know to:

  • Understand migraines and why you get them
  • Relieve symptoms
  • Pinpoint pain triggers
  • Sort through the various medications
  • Evaluate alternative remedies
  • Make simple migraine-busting lifestyle changes
  • Stop migraines from disrupting your family and work lives
  • Find a good doctor to help you manage the beast

The authors look at the whole spectrum of the problem—from dealing with the number-one issue of pain relief, to handling the peripheral problems like absences from work skepticism from friends, and impact on family. They also explore a range of critical related issues, including:

  • Different types of migraines, including abdominal, ocular, hemiplegic, opthamoplegic, and women’s hormonal migraines
  • Triggers, such as environmental allergens, stress, dietary triggers, and even exercises that can cause migraines
  • Over-the-counter medications, vitamins and herbal supplements
  • Biofeedback, meditation, massage, acupuncture, and other alternative remedies
  • The pros and cons of prescription remedies, including ergotamine derivatives, antidepressants, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, botox and more

You’ve tried Aunt Edna’s camphor-soaked head cloths. Now explore a sensible, medically sound approach, and get on the road to full-fledged pain relief with Migraines For Dummies.

If you get migraines you know how laughable it is to hear them described as “headaches.” As one poet put it, “the migraine is a beast from Hell, a bone-crushing, brain-twisting, heart-rending, apocalyptic scourge—an insult to all that’s holy.” And that’s putting it mildly. People have been trying to tame the migraine beast for thousands of years. Some early healers bored holes into their patients’ skulls, the Greeks inhaled the smoke of burning coffee beans, while in ancient Egypt, doctors tied herb-stuffed clay crocodiles to migraine sufferer’s heads. Fortunately, we live in more enlightened times and there are now medically sound approaches that are relatively simple and inexpensive—and they don’t leave scars or involve extreme fashion statements.

Your complete guide to taking charge of your migraines and getting your life back, Migraines For Dummies offers a focused, fleshed-out program that works in the real world. This friendly guide fills you in on what you need to know to:

  • Understand migraines and why you get them
  • Relieve symptoms
  • Pinpoint pain triggers
  • Sort through the various medications
  • Evaluate alternative remedies
  • Make simple migraine-busting lifestyle changes
  • Stop migraines from disrupting your family and work lives
  • Find a good doctor to help you manage the beast
  • The authors look at the whole spectrum of the problem—from dealing with the number-one issue of pain relief, to handling the peripheral problems like absences from work skepticism from friends, and impact on family. They also explore a range of critical related issues, including:

    • Different types of migraines, including abdominal, ocular, hemiplegic, opthamoplegic, and women’s hormonal migraines
    • Triggers, such as environmental allergens, stress, dietary triggers, and even exercises that can cause migraines
    • Over-the-counter medications, vitamins and herbal supplements
    • Biofeedback, meditation, massage, acupuncture, and other alternative remedies
    • The pros and cons of prescription remedies, including ergotamine derivatives, antidepressants, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, botox and more

    You’ve tried Aunt Edna’s camphor-soaked head cloths. Now explore a sensible, medically sound approach, and get on the road to full-fledged pain relief with Migraines For Dummies.

    Migraines For Dummies Cheat Sheet

    Besides a side-splitting headache, a variety of symptoms can occur when you have a migraine. Identifying common migraine signs will help: determine triggers (causes), create a plan to prevent migraines, and recognize warning signals that require medical attention. Steer clear of migraine myths so they don't hinder your diagnosis and treatment

    Articles From The Book

    9 results

    Migraines Articles

    Identifying Variations on the Migraine Theme

    As if migraines aren't big enough mischief-makers as it is, they also like to sing show tunes and take on different personas. So here we turn to migraine variants — the exceptions and odd lots that make finding your way to migraine diagnosis and treatment quite a challenging proposition.

    Abdominal migraines

    Abdominal migraines, which are sometimes diagnosed in children, are unusual because they cause pain in the stomach and lead to nausea and vomiting (sometimes without a headache).

    A child who complains of recurrent pain in his stomach may be experiencing abdominal migraines. Children who suffer from abdominal migraines are likely to have migraine headaches in adulthood. Abdominal migraines are usually treated with anticonvulsant drugs.

    Basilar migraines

    The basilar migraine was once known as the basilar artery migraine, or BAM. It was considered a problem that was found primarily in young women and adolescent girls, but it occurs in both sexes and all ages. Basilar migraines are extremely rare, but they have the potential to be a serious health hazard in that they can lead to a transient ischemic attack (TIA) or stroke.

    Symptoms to watch for are double vision, partial vision loss, terrible vomiting, dizziness, loss of balance, slurred speech, lack of coordination, numbness (on one or both sides of the body), weakness, and confusion. These symptoms typically go away at the onset of the actual headache, although they may last for days after the pain disappears.

    If you experience any of the symptoms that signal basilar migraines, see a doctor as soon as possible.

    Transient ischemic attacks, which can result from basilar migraines (although they rarely do), are essentially "mini-strokes." TIAs result from disruptions of the blood flow to the brain. Although a stroke can mean permanent disability, TIAs don't cause lasting damage. Any neurologic problems associated with TIAs, such as weakness in one arm and slurred speech, are resolved within 24 hours.

    Hemiplegic migraines

    Hemiplegic migraines are often caused by an inherited gene, but they occur in people with no family history of migraines. With hemiplegic migraines, you experience temporary paralysis or arm and leg weakness on one side of your body. The paralysis or weakness is then followed, usually within an hour, by bad head pain. The paralysis or weakness does not always go away when the headache disappears. These headaches often originate during childhood.

    Ocular migraines

    Ocular migraines are rare migraines that feature a repeated vision disturbance (temporary, partial, or complete vision loss in one eye) that lasts less than one hour. After the vision disturbance subsides, you're left with a dull ache behind the affected eye, and your entire head may ache, as well.

    If you suffer from ocular migraines, you need to be evaluated by a doctor (an ophthalmologist) to exclude other possible causes for your vision loss.

    Ophthalmoplegic migraines

    Ophthalmoplegic migraines are no longer believed to be migraines. They are now thought to be a type of neuritis (inflammation of a nerve). These headaches are associated with pain around the eyeball and the temporary weakness or paralysis of eye muscle(s). It's a condition that's usually diagnosed in children. The common symptoms of these migraines are a drooping eyelid, a dilated pupil, and double vision.

    Ophthalmoplegic migraines, which can last for days or months, require a thorough exam and testing to rule out conditions that are more serious.

    Status migrainosus

    The term status migrainosus refers to a migraine attack that goes on for more than 72 hours and leads to problems such as dehydration.

    If you have status migrainosus, you should go to the emergency room, where you will be treated with IV fluids and pain medication.

    Women-only migraines

    Certain migraines are uniquely attached to the hormonal swings that females experience. Migraines are commonly linked to menstruation. Some women get migraine headaches when they're on oral contraceptives. And in the case of women who are going through or are past menopause, hormone therapy migraines can be problematic. (Some older women have hormone-replacement-therapy-related headaches, while other women who have had migraines in the past no longer have them after menopause.)

    Migraines Articles

    Discovering If Your Physician Understands Migraines

    So you go to see your doctor, and — oops! — you discover that she's just not "into" headache diagnosis. If you're not happy with her response to your concerns, shop around for another doctor. Find a doctor who'll agree to team up with you on a treatment plan. Some primary care doctors are old hands at treating headaches, while others may want to refer you to a headache specialist for diagnosis and treatment. You can also check out doctors on your own.

    If your doctor smirks or rolls her eyes when you describe your headache problem, you know you're in trouble. The signals probably won't be that obvious though. So you have to look for subtle clues that let you know that diagnosing and treating headaches just isn't your doc's cup of tea. (You show up with a nice case of strep throat, and she's totally in the groove — but headaches aren't her bag.)

    Truth is, some doctors aren't very knowledgeable about headache diagnosis and treatment, while others just think in terms of "too many headaches, too little time." Doctors often prefer that you get help from a specialist in the head-pain field — a neurologist, pain-management expert, or internist who has made treating headaches her special passion. However, physicians who don't treat headaches themselves can usually recommend a doctor who specializes in headache diagnosis and treatment. (This specialized doctor's home base may be a headache clinic.)

    The first doctor you visit may recommend a treatment plan that actually works. But if it doesn't help — or you're worried that you may have a complex problem that requires a specialist — ask your primary care doctor for a referral to a specialist. Don't be shy. Just ask your doctor if she thinks that you should see a headache specialist.

    Keeping the faith even if your doctor is a disbeliever

    Okay, you weren't thrilled with what your doctor said. You got a pat on the arm and were instructed to "take some acetaminophen," even though you clearly explained that you tried that approach already. If your doctor is skeptical about your headaches, find a headache specialist to diagnose and treat you.

    Don't let your doctor's lack of interest keep you from looking further for relief for your headaches. You're definitely doing the right thing by seeking additional opinions. You shouldn't feel any more reluctant to seek help for your headaches than you would if you had a gaping wound or chest pains.

    If you feel like you need to see another doctor, or if your doctor refers you to a specialist, don't take it as a sign that you have an awful disease lurking inside you. Actually, the chances of you having a serious health problem are fairly unlikely. You may have high blood pressure, which definitely requires monitoring and medication, or you may just need the right migraine medication and some lifestyle changes.

    Giving up on finding help is a bad idea. Help is out there, but it just may take a little effort to find it.

    Spotting signs that you need to look elsewhere for a doctor

    What do you do if your doctor seems marginal about treating headaches? She wants to help you, but she doesn't appear to be overflowing with headache knowledge. Or she is clearly leaning toward sending you to someone whom she considers better equipped to diagnose your problem.

    You need to be able to identify the components of a deal-breaker, the indications that point you to the exit door so that you can do some more doctor shopping. If you notice even one of these signals, keep looking for a doctor to treat your headaches:

    • Your doctor makes a dismissive comment: "Well, after all, this is just a headache — not exactly anything earthshaking. . . ." or "Women have a lot of headaches due to hormone changes. . . ."
    • Your doctor looks bored when you describe your symptoms, as if she has heard all this a million times before.
    • Your doctor seems eager to refer you to a specialist.
    • Your doctor looks confused when you describe your headache symptoms.
    • Your doctor comes from the bite-the-bullet treatment school and wants you to go to bed and tough it out until the headache goes away (obviously, this healthcare provider has never had migraines herself).
    • Your doctor doesn't discuss your medical history or answer your questions. (This bit of advice refers to doctors who are treating migraines, but be advised that this is not a good sign of a helpful healthcare provider in any domain!)
    • Your physician seems eager to finish up and suggests a pain medication right away.
    • Your diagnosis is still up in the air after a visit or two.

    You may want to shop around for a headache specialist if your primary care physician tells you that she doesn't feel comfortable trying to diagnose and treat your severe headaches, or if an existing medical problem leads you to believe that you may benefit from seeing a headache specialist. You may also need a headache specialist if you take over-the-counter medications almost every day, and you don't get any new solutions when you visit your doctor.

    If you see disinterest or reluctance on the part of your doctor to work with you on migraine management, don't hesitate to ask for a referral to a headache specialist. The specialist will probably be a neurologist or internist who specializes in treating migraines.

    Migraines Articles

    Massaging Migraines Away

    Several types of massage can be helpful in relieving the pain of migraine headaches. But there aren't enough studies to show how effective — or ineffective — these therapies are. Typically, migraine sufferers who benefit from massage use it as one component of their pain-relief plan, along with medications, lifestyle changes, and so on.

    You may want to give some of the following massage options a try:

    • Craniosacral therapy: With this type of therapy, you lie back as a therapist gently massages your skull bones and your scalp. Your nerve endings get some touchy-feely attention, which soothes the nerves and lessens the pain waves they send.
    • Neuromuscular massage: This therapy, which is also known as trigger-point therapy, is a muscle-relaxing treatment that applies moderate pressure to your body's trigger points (spots in a muscle that, when stimulated by pressure or touch, are painful). Some believe that it can reduce nerve compression and relieve pain in tense or overworked muscles.
    • Reflexology: This therapy is based on the pressure and massage of points on the soles of the feet. The healing art of reflexology is often used to relieve stress and pain. For some headache sufferers, it's a godsend. It works on the idea that there are zones in the feet that correspond to all areas of the body. Therapists manipulate these zones, helping to benefit the corresponding areas throughout the rest of your body.
    • Deep-tissue massage therapy: People get massages to get rid of pain and discomfort or to just give themselves a relaxing treat. A massage therapist uses pressure, movement, and stretching to render your body more pliable and comfortable. For headaches, a therapist will usually use therapeutic, deep-tissue techniques. Deep-tissue massages may serve to improve circulation and help reduce muscle tension. When performing a deep-tissue massage, a massage therapist focuses on specific areas of the body to relieve pain and release stress. Many believe that massage can reduce muscle pain and ease muscle tension and stiffness. Deep tissue refers to the use of deep finger pressure and slow strokes on areas of the body that are suffering from muscle tension or aches.
      Because deep-tissue massage works well on tense shoulders and necks, it can sometimes provide relief from headache symptoms. (If you aren't sure whether your physical condition is amenable to massage, check with your doctor before having a massage. Massage isn't recommended if you have varicose veins, a recent fracture, sprain, or nerve injury, or if you've recently had chemotherapy or radiation.)
    • Acupressure: For headache relief, acupressure techniques are used to apply gentle finger pressure to various points on your head. It is believed that this therapy can help headache sufferers by calming muscle tension and enhancing blood circulation. In a more ethereal sense, some think that acupressure promotes self-healing of the body by re-establishing energy balance. At any rate, this therapy is painless. So if you want to try it, check with your physician. (He'll probably give you a go-ahead.)
      You can figure out how to perform a simple form of acupressure in minutes. Apply gentle and continuous fingertip pressure with two fingers for two to three minutes. Use one hand to work the top of your skull, and the other hand to apply pressure to the spot between your eyebrows. Of course, there are many other acupressure moves — you can get a book on the subject or have an acupressure practitioner take you through the steps.
    • Rolfing: This therapy is one of many variations on the theme of massage. Its roots go back to the belief that most of us become all choked up with muscle contractions, which throws our bodies off balance. By applying deep pressure to your muscles, a Rolfing practitioner may be able to ease your headache pain by ratcheting down the tautness of your muscles. For some people, Rolfing reduces pain. For others, Rolfing is too vigorous for their taste. Rolfing is not for the person who's put off by aggressive body manipulation. (Basically, Rolfing is massage that is taken to a tougher intensity level. It's not a surefire headache remedy, by any means.)

    The pressure of any type of massage may cause some discomfort, but if you experience a great deal of pain, tell the therapist to stop. You may need to see your doctor for an evaluation.

    Check with a local school of massage for the names of qualified therapists in your area. And when you're interviewing therapists, ask to see proof of membership in the American Massage Therapy Association (AMTA). Therapists with membership in this association have completed a training program approved by the Commission on Massage Training Accreditation/Approval, hold a state license that meets AMTA standards, and have passed an AMTA exam or the National Certification Examination for Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork. You can also find trained massage therapists on the AMTA Web site.