What You Need To Know About Headaches……Part 3

I had hoped to get my migraine series finished before the end of June, which was migraine awareness month. However, sadly I spent most of the last week of June in the hospital with a MIGRAINE. I had dealt with it for over ten days and finally waved the white flag, cried uncle and went to the hospital. I was hoping that I would be able to break the migraine by just getting medications in the ER. But no luck, I had to be admitted for four days. So finishing this treatment section of the migraine series seems appropriate, as I spent the last couple weeks living in this phase of a migraine.

So how do you treat a migraine??? Well, that’s really a hard question to answer. What works for me may not work for you and vice versa.  And I have found it to be more a case of trial and error of what might work. I have tried SO MANY medications and treatment options over the years. Even thought I have been on this migraine journey for over 15 years I am not totally sure that I have found the perfect mix yet. In the early years I only had migraines periodically, it wasn’t until the last three years that they have really become debilitating.  I also didn’t start having the hemiplegic (stroke like) migraines until 2016. One of the big things I can’t stress enough when you are on the search for the best treatment for your migraines is to keep a journal of your symptoms, what you did, what you ate etc on the day of your headaches so you can see if there is something recurring with each migraine. So lets dig in to treatment options.

The most common treatment for migraines are medications. Whether you take over the counter meds, preventative meds or meds for the acute head. Below you will see the each type of medication explained.

  • Over the counter (OTC) medications are medications that can be bought without a prescription on the counter at any pharmacy.
  • Acute medications are used as soon as a migraine is happening. These are also known as abortive medications.
  • Preventative Medications are used on an ongoing or routine bases, in hope that they will prevent or reduce future attacks. These can also be called prophylactic medications.

Over the counter options for acute symptoms include:

  • Excedrin Migraine
  • Ibuprofen which is also known as Advil and Motrin
  • Naproxen which is also known as Aleve
  • Aspirin (you need to check with your physician before taking this medication as it is also a blood thinner)
  • Acetaminophen which is also known as Tylenol

Examples of prescription drugs you might be given to take for acute (when the headache is happening) symptoms include:

  • Triptans are a class of medications that deal with the chemical Serotonin in the brain, which helps to diminish the swelling of the blood vessels that cause the headaches. These drugs are primarily used in the treatment of acute headaches. This method of treatment goes back to the 1950s. Examples: Maxalt & Imitrex.
  • DHE 45 became a treatment for migraines in the 1940s. It is only used to treat migraines in the ACUTE stage and should not be used as a preventative medication. This medication is available as an injection, IV drip and nasal spray.
  • Ergotamine is a medication that is used for a SPECIFIC kind of headache. It is used to treat vascular and tension headaches. The medication works to narrow the widened blood vessels in the head, which in turn reduces the throbbing effects of vascular headaches. This medication is also used only in treatment of acute headaches.

Examples of medications that are given as  preventive or prophylactic prescription medications include:

  • Beta blockers (Use caution with these as they can also lower the blood pressure and heart rate) This group of medication is used as a preventative medication to treat migraines. They work to relax and open up blood flow thus reducing the frequency of headaches.  Examples: Propanolol or Toprolol.
  • Calcium Channel Blockers (Use caution with these as they can lower the heart rate) This group of medication is used because of the way it works, basically the end result is that this group of medications prevent contraction of the muscle wall of the artery.  Examples: Procardia or Verapamil
  • Antidepressants are often used as a preventative medication for headaches because the tricyclic antidepressants also work to treat chronic pain. Thus they work well for migraines.  Example: Elavil
  • Anticonvulsants this group of medication work to calm the hyperactivity in the brain. Example: Depakote, Topamax, Gabapentin

There are also many other options for migraines. One of the most common is the Complementary & Alternative Medicine. This option includes any medicinal products or practices that are not part of modern medicine. Alternative medicine can be defined by its use an an alternative option to traditional modern medicine. Complementary medicine is used in conjunction with traditional medical treatment. These treatments could be things like: any natural remedies like herbal medications or treatments, vitamins, minerals or any kind of supplements. There are many options of herbal medications, which I have tried, the one I personally had the most luck with was feverfew. Other options would include meditation, yoga, biofeedback, acupuncture, tai-chi. Or even body-based practices like chiropractic adjustments or massage therapy. Like always, before starting any new over the counter medication, herb or supplement. Or any increase in physical activity please check with a dr before doing so!

In addition to medications and alternative or complementary therapy, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has now approved two different nerve stimulators that may be helpful for certain people who have not gotten any relief from all other treatment options. The Cerena Transcranial Magnetic Stimulator is a device that has been approved for anyone over the age of 18 who have migraines that are preceded by an aura. This specific device is help to the back of the head and will deliver a pulse of magnetic energy.

There is also a vagus nerve stimulator that has been approved for use in adults with migraines, as well as those who suffer from episodic cluster headaches. This device is hand-held and is placed over the vagus nerve in the neck and it releases a mild electrical stimulation to reduce pain.

In 2010 Botox, previously primarily known for its use by plastic surgeons, was approved for use with chronic migraines. Currently the FDA has only approved Botox use in those with chronic migraines, which means a person must have 15 or more headache days a month. Research shows that the more frequent the headaches the better the Botox result will be. Botox is given as approximately 30 tiny Injections around the head, the injections are given around pain fibers that are involved in headaches. Botox will enter the nerve endings around the injection site and then blocks the release of chemicals involved in pain. This in turn prevents activations of the pain networks of the brain. Patients who receive Botox can only receive injections every 12 weeks. And it generally takes 3-4 treatments at least to begin to fill the full impact it may have. Botox requires pre-authorization by the insurance company before it can be given. Along with very detailed documentation by the doctor regarding the frequency and duration of your headaches.

In early 2018 the FDA approved the first drug of its kind for migraines. It is said to reduce the number of migraines among those who are prone to migraines. Most of the medications currently used for migraines are used to control the symptoms. The new drug, called Aimovig, is designed to reduce the number of migraines among the population who suffer most frequently. One of the largest studies done during the testing stage showed that the number of migraines dropped from eight to fewer than five. This medication is given as an injection, much like insulin, delivered by a pen-like device. The one big downfall for some is that the medication will cost around $6,900 a year, and insurance coverage is not completely decided at this point!!

I hope each of you enjoyed this series on migraines and that maybe you learned something you didn’t know. I know I learned a LOT while doing the research for this series. Migraines are so complex and I could have probably written a five part series or even more. There are so many options of medications available along with many more non-medicinal treatments available, than in years past. And so much research is being done to find the best treatment available for migraines. I didn’t cover Botox in much detail and there is a lot of information I could share. If you are interested in learning more about Botox or the new medication Aimovig leave me a comment and let me know. Also, if you have a condition that you would like me to do a series of posts on let me know and I will dig in and start my research. This has been pretty popular so I am looking forward to doing more multi-part series in the future.

With Love,

Amber