Health Aware: Manage migraines with 3-step plan

If you are one of the millions of Americans who suffer from migraines, Mohammad Sajed, a neurologist with the Edward Neurosciences Institute in affiliation with Northwestern Medicine and medical director of the Edward Headache Clinic, recommends three steps to help manage them.

Step 1: Is your headache a migraine?

It’s important to determine if your headache is truly a migraine. Migraines are characterized by intense, throbbing or pulsating pain, usually on one side of the head. Migraine headaches can last from half an hour to several hours, sometimes even days. Nausea, vomiting and sensitivity to light, sound or odors are common in people with a migraine. Some people also experience visual disturbances, called aura, which might include spots, dots, jagged lines, flashing lights or disruptions in taste, smell or touch.

Step 2: Learn the “triggers”

Dr. Sajed, who is also board certified in headache medicine, recommends patients learn possible “triggers” of migraines. The exact cause of migraines is unknown, although many individuals can identify what may cause or worsen a headache. Avoiding these triggers may help reduce the frequency and severity of migraine headaches. Possible triggers may include:

Stress and anxiety

Changes in the weather

Caffeine (too much or too little)

Chocolate or alcohol

Lack of sleep or too much sleep

Hormonal changes during the menstrual cycle

Skipping meals

Foods containing nitrates (luncheon meats, hot dogs, among others)

Foods containing tyramine (aged cheeses, smoked fish)

Foods containing monosodium glutamate (most diet or “light” soft drinks)

Step 3: Get the right treatment

There are various treatment options for migraine headaches, including Botox injections for certain migraines. Most commonly, over-the-counter pain relievers such as aspirin, acetaminophen or anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen are used. If those don’t relieve migraine symptoms, prescription drugs call triptans are an alternative. Talk with your physician about the right treatment for your symptoms.

Migraines are a common condition that can dramatically affect the quality of your life. The Edward Headache Clinic provides state-of-the-art diagnosis and care for sufferers of all types of headaches from the simplest to the most complex.

The Headache Clinic is open 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday. To make an appointment, call 630-527-7730. For more information, visit www.edward.org/neuro.

Health Aware is a weekly column courtesy of Edward Hospital.

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