Migraine: New paths to relief

The Migraine Research Foundation estimates that about 18% of American women and 6% of men suffer from migraine. University of Michigan's Wade M. Cooper, D.O., talks about migraine triggers and solutions.

The Migraine Research Foundation estimates that about 18% of American women and 6% of men suffer from migraine. University of Michigan’s Dr. Wade M. Cooper talks about migraine triggers, solutions and advances in treatments.

About 35 million Americans suffer with migraine. Are you one of them? If so, as director of the University of Michigan Headache and Neuropathic Pain Clinic, I’d like you to know that there may be better ways for you to manage your migraines and new ways to treat them.

Migraines are those incredibly painful headaches that can last hours or even days, usually 4 to 72 hours. They may cause severe throbbing in the head as well as sensitivity to light, sounds or smells. Often, the person wants to curl up in a dark room and stay there until the pain and symptoms go away. 

Possible triggers for migraine

There is a wide range of triggers for migraine:

  • Alcohol (red wine in particular)
  • Artificial sweeteners (including sucralose – think diet sodas or “light” yogurt)
  • Sleep dysfunction
  • Sex
  • Caffeine
  • Hormonal fluctuation
  • Emotional stressors
  • Certain medications

Solutions/What you can do

  • Identify your particular migraine triggers and then avoid them. You won’t be able to stay away from certain triggers (such as sexual activity), but there are medications that may enable you to engage in sex without triggering a migraine.
  • Stay away from foods labeled “light” or “diet.”
  • For women, monitor your menstrual cycle to see if migraines are more common during your period.
  • Regulate stress and sleep.
  • Stick to a regular schedule.

If migraine persists

If the solutions mentioned above don’t help, talk with your primary care physician, possibly asking for a referral to a neurologist. A proper diagnosis of migraine would include a medical history and comprehensive neurological exam. The doctor may also request an MRI or blood tests.

Advances in migraine treatments

If you sought medical help for migraines several years ago, you might not be aware of all of the available treatments offered today. Here are a few:

  • New prescription medications, which may be more effective and less likely to cause side effects than previous treatments
  • Nutritional supplements
  • Vitamin therapies that have anti-pain or anti-migraine suppressing properties
  • Pain psychology, which uses relaxation strategies and biofeedback
  • Hormone therapy
  • Acupuncture
  • Peripheral nerve injections, which numb the nerves of the scalp – the injections can give patients weeks to months of benefit
  • Occipital nerve stimulation – a rare treatment using a surgically implanted device that delivers an electric charge to nerves in the back of the scalp

How common is migraine?

Migraine is more common than you think. If you have missed work or canceled plans due to headache, odds are you have migraine headaches.

The Migraine Research Foundation (MRF) estimates that 90% of migraine sufferers are unable to work or function normally during their migraine attacks. Most sufferers experience attacks once or twice a month, but some people experience headaches almost every day. MRF estimates that about 18% of American women and 6% of men suffer from migraine.

In our program, we consider those with migraine to have an enhanced nervous system. This means that people with migraine are more sensitive to the environment — including light, sound, smell and vibration.

Next steps

Wade M. Cooper, D.O., is Director, University of Michigan Headache and Neuropathic Pain Clinic and Assistant Professor of Neurology and of Anesthesiology. He also serves as the fellowship director for the Headache Medicine Fellowship Program. His areas of interest include interventional treatments for chronic headache and inflammation syndromes related to headache and centralized pain.


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