WASHINGTON (WDVM) — 35 million Americans and one billion people worldwide suffer from migraines, a neurologic condition that can be debilitating for many. What makes a migraine more severe than a regular headache?
Migraines come in reoccurring attacks — often on one side of the brain — and can last anywhere from four to 72 hours. Not only do patients experience intense head pain, but they also suffer from other side effects including nausea, vomiting, sensitivity to light and more.
WDVM spoke to Dr. Amanda Tinsley, director at the GW Headache Center to learn more about the common condition.
“I always say that migraines are so much more than just a headache because patients not only experience the pain, but they experience associated symptoms that could be very disabling,” said Tinsley.
Associated symptoms include temporary neurologic dysfunction in the form of visual changes, difficulty speaking or numbness on one side of the body.
“You don’t know what a migraine is until you’ve had a migraine,” said Fiona Reddy, a D.C. local who suffers from migraines. “It’s almost as if you’re walking around and there’s an invisible hammer that’s following you, banging on your head. Sometimes it’s as if my head is on fire, I can’t touch my head, I can’t have light, I can’t have sound.”
So what triggers this type of pain?
“Common triggers that we see are hormonal, so with women, around their menstrual cycle they can experience more severe migraine attacks, also stress, and with the pandemic, it’s been really interesting because stress levels have been high, also bright lights can be a common trigger,” explained Tinsley.
Doctors have also found weather changes and particular foods to be migraine triggers.
However, in good news, doctors have made significant progress over the past year researching migraines and discovering efficient treatment options.
“2020 was a terrible year for the world, but a great year for migraines. We have so many advances in the field and so much research going on as to what causes migraines and it’s led to more tailored, migraine-specific therapies that are very effective,” stated Tinsley.
Migraine patients no longer have to suffer like they did decades ago when little was known about the neurological condition. Today, there are several treatment methods available for migraine prevention and reduction of symptoms during the onset of a migraine.
The medication, Nurtec ODT, is FDA proven to treat and prevent migraines and is often prescribed to patients who suffer from migraines.
Tinsley said doctors typically treat migraines with different strategies, including prescribing medication, advising patients to eliminate potential triggers and reduce stress to aid in migraine prevention.
To learn more about migraines, click here.