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May 18, 2009

Migraine News and Views

The economy's not the only thing suffering these days. Migraines cost this country $13 billion a year in lost work. Stress is a common trigger, so if you're having financial woes, watch out.

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Photo Credit: Blend Images Photography/Veer.com

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Talk about gender discrimination: 70 percent of migraine sufferers are women, meaning one out of five of us has had one. The National Headache Foundation estimates that half of these cases are menstruation-related. "Some patients get migraines when their estrogen fluctuates, so hormonal dips during ovulation and right before your period could predict a migraine," says Dr. Merle Diamond, associate director of Chicago's Diamond Headache Clinic, adding that, on average, migraines attack twice a month and last anywhere from four hours to three days.

After going on the birth-control pill, MC's Sarah Z. Wexler, 27, thought she was having a paranormal experience, but it was really her first migraine: "I was driving to work and started seeing ghostly purple dots in my peripheral view. When they disappeared 45 minutes later, I felt like someone was hammering nails into my temples." Now Wexler recognizes the otherworldly aura as a surefire signal that a migraine's about to strike. Says Jessica Levey, 32, who has had migraines while on vacation, before important meetings, and at weddings, "I'm so sick of migraines affecting my life." Because of the stigma surrounding migraines (they're often erroneously assumed to be just a dramatic term for bad headaches), Levey tries to work through the pain: "I don't call in sick anymore because I'm afraid my coworkers don't believe me." But unlike headaches, explains Diamond, migraines are a chronic neurologic disease, like epilepsy.

CHILL OUT
Each year, more than $1 billion is spent on over-the-counter headache and migraine medications. For instant relief, immediately apply an ice pack to your head and pop a painkiller designed for migraines. These formulas mix anti-inflammatories like aspirin and ibuprofen with caffeine to shrink swollen blood vessels and alleviate mild to moderate aching.

HEADACHE OR MIGRAINE?
·Tension headache: Aching or viselike pressure in the scalp, forehead, or neck area.
·Cluster headache: Stabbing pain behind or around the eyes, or throbbing on one side of the head.
·Migraine: Tension or cluster headache, plus nausea and sensitivity to light or noise.

HOPE ON THE HORIZON
New treatments awaiting FDA approval:
·Stop Signs Doctors hope a new drug will block calcitonin gene-related peptide (CGRP), a brain chemical that helps transmit pain signals during a migraine.
·Freeze Frame "We don't know exactly how it works, but Botox relaxes muscles in the scalp, which may prevent the inflammation and spasms that can lead to migraines," explains Dr. Carolyn Bernstein, author of The Migraine Brain.
·Mixed Messages Doctors are researching a device, implanted under the skin, that interferes with pain messages that travel along nerves to the brain. "We're working on long-term studies now, but this treatment is [going to be] expensive--up to $15,000," says Diamond.
·Hot Shot Nicknamed "the migraine gun," this handheld device sends an electro-magnetic wave to the brain to prevent attacks. "The magnet stops the brain's circuits from signaling so the migraine doesn't become full-blown," Diamond explains.

THINKING AHEAD
If you're going through a stressful time and want to prevent a migraine, try touching your toes. "Yoga stimulates the release of endorphins, the body's natural painkillers," says Bernstein. "Forward-bending poses have been proven to decrease the frequency of attacks."


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