More than 45
million Americans suffer from chronic, recurring headaches,
according to the National Headache Foundation. Headaches
are one of the leading causes of lost work days, and the
Foundation estimates that Americans spend $4 billion annually
on over-the-counter medications for treatment of headache
pain. The most common headache is a tension headache.
It has been estimated that eight to twelve million Americans,
sixty percent of them women, suffer from migraine pain.
Migraines are vascular headaches, caused when the blood
vessels in the scalp expand and then contract, causing a
throbbing pain often synchronized to the beat of the sufferer's
Migraine pain usually starts on one side of the head, and
may stay there or become more generalized as time wears
on. Patients sometimes develop nausea, vomiting, shaking,
or sensitivity to light and sound. Length of an attack
vary from several minutes to several days. Some patients
experience an "aura" prior to the onset of pain.
This warning sign may manifest itself with a particular
odor or taste, or with visual disturbances such as flashing
lights, jagged lines, or patches of darkness. Other symptoms
can include tingling or numbness of the arms or legs.
authorities believe migraine headaches are hereditary,
noting that seventy percent of patients report a family
history of migraines. This means that if parents have a
history of migraines, there is a 3 out of 4 chance that
their children will develop migraines. Migraines may also
be triggered by stress, poor sleeping habits, menstruation
and changes in altitude and temperature. Chocolate, red
wine and aged cheeses can provoke a migraine in some
while others react to noises, odors, bright lights and
even watching television.
of migraine headaches falls into two categories.
Abortive methods, used at the onset of an attack, include
medications such as ergotamine (cafergot), naproxen
(anaprox), and isometheptena (midrin). Oxygen may be administered,
and ice packs are sometimes used to constrict the dilated
blood vessels. Preventive methods, vital for decreasing
the intensity, duration and frequency of attacks, include
the use of propranolol (inderal), verapamil (calan), or
tricyclic antidepressants such as elavil and desyral.
with medication, the preventive program may also include
relaxation and stress management techniques. Bio-feedback
is sometimes used to help patients control muscle contraction
and swelling of blood vessels without medication.