Friday, August 16, 2019

Diagnosis and Treatment of Migraine Headaches

Last week, we talked about migraine headache symptoms and possible triggers.  This week we'll talk about how the diagnosis is made, and what treatment options are available.

How does your doctor make the diagnosis of migraine?

The first thing your doctor will do is get a good description of your headaches.  The doctor will use the description to determine if your headaches fit the migraine diagnosis.  We talked about these qualities last week.

Migraine HeadachesYour doctor should then do a thorough neurologic exam, which will help to rule out other serious causes of headache.  This also helps determine if additional tests are necessary.  If you have headaches that fit the description of migraine, have no symptoms of other serious causes of headache, and have a totally normal neurologic examination, then a diagnosis can be made without additional tests.  An MRI of the brain is not required, unless there are concerning features in the description, or abnormal exam findings.

How are migraine headaches treated?

Several medications from different classes are available to treat migraine.  The treatment approach depends on the severity and frequency of headaches.  

Treatment of the acute headache

For patients who have headache symptoms less than an average of 2 days each week, we treat with medications taken only when a headache occurs.  Here is an idea of the medications we recommend.

For mild to moderate intensity headaches - Over-the-counter (OTC) medications, including acetaminophen, ibuprofen, naproxen, or caffeine containing medications such as Excedrin Migraine.  Many migraines respond well to over the counter treatment options.

For mild to moderate intensity headaches that do not respond to OTC treatments, or for moderate to severe migraines - Prescription drugs in the triptan class, such as sumatriptan, eletriptan, rizatriptan, and others, or prescription medications in the ergotamine class, such as Migranal.

Evidence shows that acute treatment works best if taken as soon as possible after the onset of migraine, or during the aura (if you have one), before the pain progresses.  OTC drugs have been shown to have comparable effectiveness to prescription medications for most patients, if they are taken early enough.

Medications containing opiates or barbiturates should NOT be taken for acute migraine, for multiple reasons, including the increased risk of developing chronic daily headaches.
Treatment to prevent headaches

Preventive (or prophylactic) therapy is recommended for migraine patients in the following situations:
  • Headaches occurring more than 2 days a week
  • Headaches that severely limit the quality of life despite acute headache treatment
  • Inability to take acute headache treatments (due to side effects or other medical problems)
  • Presence of severe symptoms associated with headaches, such as loss of speech or stroke-like symptoms.
What are the goals of preventive therapy?
  • Reduce the frequency, severity, and duration of headaches
  • Improve responsiveness to acute treatment
  • Reduce the level of disability/improve quality of life
  • Reduce the excessive or overuse of acute medications (which can lead to rebound headaches)
  • Reduce the cost of treatment
Which preventive treatment is right for you?

There are a number of different classes of medication which can be used for prevention of headaches.  Different medications have different safety and cost factors which may play a role in deciding which medication is best for you.  Some patients respond better to certain medications than others.  It is a very individualized treatment. 
Preventive medications are usually started at low doses, and gradually increased based on your response.  It may take 2-3 months for you to notice a decrease in frequency or severity of headaches, so remember to be patient and work with your doctor to get the medication and the dose that is right for you.

If you have any questions about migraine headaches, please log into your account and send us your question. We are here to help.

Dr. Anita Bennett MD - Health Tip Content Editor

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Migraine Headaches

A migraine is a specific type of headache that can cause severe, throbbing pain, often on one side of the head.  Approximately 18 percent of women and 6 percent of men in the United States have migraine headaches.  Migraine headaches can last anywhere from hours to days.  The pain can be severe enough to keep you from doing your normal activities.  There are good treatment options available for migraine headaches.  If you suffer from headaches, I think you will find the Health Tip today very interesting.

What are the possible symptoms of a migraine headache?
  •  Severe throbbing or pulsing pain in the headMigraine Headaches
  • Pain is often located on one side only, but may be on both sides, especially later in the headache
  •  Nausea and vomiting
  •  Sensitivity to light and/or sound, or less frequently to smell or touch
What is a migraine aura?
Migraines can actually progress through four stages.  These stages are the prodrome, aura, attack, and post-drome.  Most patients with migraines will not go through all stages.  The aura is the most recognizable stage, but even the aura doesn't happen in all migraine patients.  The aura may happen in the immediate period prior to the onset of a migraine, or it may happen during the headache.  Auras are caused by reversible changes in the nervous system that may last anywhere from 20-60 minutes.
Here are some examples of migraine auras:
  • Visual changes – May include seeing flashing lights or bright spots in your vision, or maybe seeing shapes or wavy lines
  • Vision loss – May affect one or both eyes
  • Altered sensation – Such as a pins and needles sensation in an arm or leg
  • Weakness or numbness – May be in the face or on one side of the body
  • Difficulty speaking
What causes a migraine?
The truth is that the exact cause of a migraine is not well understood.  There is research to suggest that the headache happens when brain cells trigger release of certain chemicals that cause narrowing of the blood vessels in the brain.  Fluctuations in estrogen levels can also cause similar blood vessel changes.  There also seems to be some interaction between the brain and certain nerves that can trigger pain.  Although we don't fully understand the exact cause, it does appear that genetic factors do play a role.  Environmental and hormonal factors also play a role.
What are migraine triggers?
Even though the underlying cause may not be well understood, we have identified a number of things that can trigger a migraine headache to occur.  Migraine triggers are different for each person with migraines.  Here are some common triggers:
  • Hormonal changes in women – hormone fluctuations related to menstruation, pregnancy, or perimenopause
  • Changes in sleep patterns – especially too little sleep
  • Changes in caffeine intake – either higher or lower than average caffeine intake
  • Skipping meals
  • Certain foods or drinks, or even food additives – such as aged cheeses, red wine, some fruits or nuts, processed meats, and MSG(monosodium glutamate).
When might a headache be an emergency?
If you have any of the following symptoms, you should see a doctor immediately:
  • A severe headache that comes on abruptly, often described as a thunderclap
  • A headache that is newly associated with numbness, weakness, or difficulty speaking
  • A headache accompanied by high fever, stiff neck, confusion, seizure, or double vision
For more information about migraine headaches, including a more extensive list of migraine triggers, follow this link,

Next week we will talk about the treatment options for migraine headaches. 
If you have any questions about migraine headaches, please log into your account and send us your question.  We are here to help!

Dr. Anita Bennett MD - Health Tip Content Editor

Friday, August 2, 2019

Prevent Food Poisoning

Last week we talked about the different causes of food poisoning, and the symptoms they cause.  This week I wanted to talk about how to keep yourself safe and prevent food poisoning.  You have probably heard the basic rule which says to keep hot foods hot and cold foods cold.  I want you to know more than just the basic rule, so that you can stay well throughout the picnic season and beyond.

Prevent Food PoisoningWhat you can do to prevent food poisoning:

  • Wash your hands for at least 20 seconds with soap and water, before, during, and after preparing food, and before eating.
  • Do NOT prepare food if you are ill, especially if you have diarrhea or vomiting.
  • Wear gloves while preparing foods if you have any cuts or wounds on your hands or wrists.
  • Cook and keep food at the correct temperature - Use a food thermometer to be sure.  Meats should be cooked to a safe internal temperature, based on which meat you are cooking.  They should then be kept hot until serving, at least 140 degrees F.  They should be served hot, within 2 hours of cooking.
  • Cold foods, such as prepared sandwiches or salads should be kept at 40 degrees F or cooler until serving. 
  • Refrigerate leftover foods as soon as possible, within 2 hours of preparation or within 1 hour if the temperature is hotter than 90 degrees F outside. 
  • It is ok to put hot foods directly into the refrigerator.  However, large amounts of food, such as soups or stews, or large cuts of meat (like a large roast or turkey), should be divided into smaller quantities for refrigeration, so that the temperature goes down quickly enough.  Use a wide, shallow container to help get the temperature down more quickly.
  • If you are making a cold dish with a cooked ingredient (like potato or chicken salad), allow the cooked ingredient to cool in the refrigerator before making the salad, then refrigerate immediately after making it.
  • When camping or picnicking, make sure your ice chest is large enough to accommodate enough ice for the heat of the day and the amount of food you are taking.  When in doubt, use a larger ice chest with more ice, or replenish your ice more frequently.
  • Leftover foods should be reheated to at least 165 degrees F before serving.
  • When in doubt, throw it out!  Foods that have dangerous bacteria in them may not smell or look different, or even taste different.  Any food that has not been cooked properly, or has been left out for too long at the wrong temperature, may be dangerous to eat, even if it looks fine.
Use this link for a chart of safe cooking temperatures

If you have any questions about food poisoning, please log into your account and send us your question. We are here to help.

Dr. Anita Bennett MD - Health Tip Content Editor