If you are one of the many people affected by migraines then you’ll fully understand just how debilitating they can be.  It’s not just the headaches which can totally disrupt your life, it’s the days afterwards when light and sound sensitivity can still be an issue, as well as the myriad of other symptoms including seeing flashing lights and feeling nauseous which precede a migraine.

There are many different theories regarding the causes of migraines and now new research presented to the American Pain Society suggests that migraines are neurological, not vascular.  This could mean that new treatments aimed at preventing migraines could be used to target both the peripheral and central nervous systems.

Statistics from the Institute of Medicine show that 40 million people in the United States suffer from migraines.  Figures also show that 10% of the world’s population suffer from migraine.

The most commonly used medicines used to treat migraines are triptan based and work to constrict the blood vessels thus reducing the pain.  In the UK, Botox, which has long been used for the treatment of migraines, has been approved for treatment on the NHS for patients with chronic migraine.

David Dodick, MD, professor of neurology at Mayo Clinic in Phoenix, said:

“While migraine research has been massively underfunded and the disorder often is clinically dismissed as a ‘headache,’ its genetic and biological basis is increasingly coming into focus as the result of considerable scientific advances over the past two decades.”

“Today we know that migraine is a largely inherited disorder characterized by physiological changes in the brain, and, if attacks occur with high frequency, structural alterations in the brain.”

He went on to say:

“This is a neurological disease with systemic implications.”

Dr Doddick also talked of the importance of reducing risk factors and of using preventative treatments to help avoid migraines.  Some foods are thought to trigger migraines and stress is also thought to be a factor. Specifically, Dr Doddick lists overuse of medications such as opioids, barbiturates, analgesics and triptans, depression and other mood disorders, obesity, snoring, head trauma, and excessive caffeine intake as risk factors for migraines.

Dr Dodick continued:

“Migraine risk factors can be treated effectively in the primary care setting, and we need to educate practitioners about what they can do to help prevent migraine in their patients.”

“About 40 percent of migraine patients are candidates for preventive treatments but only 10 percent receive them.  Doctors just want to treat the pain because they have little time to spend with patients to explore other options.  They need to start thinking about the treatment of migraine in a disease model context, in much the same way as hypertension or diabetes.”

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