There are five types of headaches: Sinus, cluster, tension, migraine and hormonal. OB/GYN Dr. Lisa Masterson explains that headaches are much more common in women than men due to hormonal fluctuations, and many women report menstrual migraines right before their period. Headaches can also be caused by neck pain that stems from injury, strain, sprain, herniated discs or insufficient support while sleeping.
Dr. Travis explains that migraine headaches are thought to be caused by the dilation of blood vessels in the brain and tend to affect one side of the head. The dilated vessels pull on nerve receptors located near the blood vessels, causing pain signals to be sent to the brain. The result is a terrible, throbbing headache with a variety of symptoms. Migraines are difficult to treat, as symptoms and triggers vary among individuals, but they are often relieved by sleep.
Symptoms of a Migraine Headache:
• Moderate to severe pain
• Sensitivity to light and colors
• Loss of appetite
Foods such as coffee, red wine, cheese, chocolate and monosodium glutamate (MSG) or high levels of sodium can trigger migraines. Dr. Travis suggests headache sufferers keep a journal of their migraines to see what, if anything, triggers them.
Plastic surgeon Dr. Drew Ordon explains that Botox injections are an increasingly popular treatment for migraines, because they can be injected into the sensory nerves that send pain impulses to the brain. Read Dr. Ordon's blog about how Botox can neutralize migraines.
For those who do not respond to medications or Botox, a surgical procedure pioneered by plastic surgeon Dr. Bahman Guyuron from the University Hospitals of Cleveland may cure migraines. Dr. Guyuron discovered an unexpected side effect when performing a forehead lift, a cosmetic procedure that lifts the brow to create a younger appearance. His patients who had migraines, was the subsequent lack of migraine pain after the procedure.
"That lead me to do a number of studies that were published in the Journal of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery," Dr. Guyuron says. "We have discovered that there are common triggers sites, and I have developed surgical techniques for each one of them."
Trigger points in the brain initiate a cascade of events that lead to the dilation of blood vessels, causing migraine pain. Dr. Guyuron makes five incisions in the forehead, removing targeted muscles and nerves.
"The patients look naturally rejuvenated and more cheerful," Dr. Guyuron says. "We take the migraine headaches away and eliminate that irritation of the trigeminal [nerve] branches that cause migraine headaches," Dr. Guyuron concludes.
Non-surgical migraine remedies include practicing relaxation techniques, exercising at least three times per week and placing ice on the base of the neck.
A new treatment called Levadex is still in clinical trials and not yet approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), but shows a great deal of promise. Levadex is reformulated from a drug called DHE 45 and works similarly to an asthma inhaler. Once inhaled, the drug provides rapid and sustained pain relief.
Minimize Your Migraine
Migraine headaches can be debilitating. Thirty-three-year-old Laura’s migraines are so bad that she often has to go to the emergency room for help. Acupuncture has been recommended as a remedy, and despite her fear of needles, Laura undergoes a treatment. “The migraines are so bad, and they make me so sick, and they happen so often, that if this is going to help, I’m willing to do it,” she says.
Migraines can cause nausea, discomfort from lights and pain that can keep you from performing everyday activities. “Acupuncture is great,” acupuncturist Dr. Michael Yang says. “We’re talking about increased endorphin response, which we know is the natural painkiller. We also know it’s a question of blood flow, so acupuncture does a great job of increasing the blood flow in the patient, and that is really critical when we’re talking about dealing with this kind of pain.”
Multiple treatments are recommended for patients with chronic pain, such as Laura. If you do get a migraine, relaxing in a dark, quiet room that is free of any strong smells can help reduce the symptoms. If the pain continues, you can seek treatments such as medication or acupuncture. “The great thing about this is you have to be willing as a patient to try new things,” Dr. Travis says. “And acupuncture is, theoretically, a great choice for people who aren’t getting relief from over-the-counter medicines or prescription medicines.”
Another migraine remedy that's still in development is the Neuralieve TMS Treatment Device. The Doctors gets a sneak peak at the handheld machine that is placed at the back of the head and emits a magnetic pulse to stave off the onset of a migraine. The caveat is that the pulse can only be administered when a person senses an aura, which is a precursor to a debilitating migraine. Research has shown that just one zap keeps the doctor away!