Understanding Chronic Migraines & Treatment Options
What are chronic migraines?
Nearly 40 million Americans suffer from migraines and the symptoms associated with them. Approximately two-thirds of the Americans who experience these migraines are middle-aged women. Migraines are not just headaches, they are a debilitating form of a headache that is frequently associated with nausea, vomiting, seeing an aura (shortly before the migraine symptoms occur), experiencing sensitivity to light/sound and a severe throbbing sensation (can be on one side of the head or on both sides). Migraines have also been known to cause stroke-like symptoms, including paralysis. The good news is that migraines may be prevented by adhering to the principles of functional medicine.
Causes of chronic migraines
It is believed that every type of headache has a similar underlying cause, including:
- Increased stress
- Changes in neurotransmitter levels (e.g., serotonin)
Migraines may become more prevalent once an individual reaches his or her 30s. Migraines become worse when an individual is experiencing a stressful situation or during a period of transition (e.g., going away to college, starting a new job, etc.). Migraines tend to run in families as well. Since the majority of headaches are related to one another, natural headache remedies can keep migraine symptoms under control. These remedies include managing stress and eating a healthy, well-balanced diet. Abnormal neurological events related to changes in the body include blood flow, muscle functions, and nerve signaling.
There are numerous factors that can trigger a migraine, these factors include:
- Stress (feeling nervous, rushed and/or overly anxious)
- Brain stem dysfunction from a past illness or previous injury
- A lack of sleep
- Variations in the neurotransmitter levels and nerve signals, which leads to pain: Including low levels of serotonin
- Inflammation, which makes it difficult for blood to flow through the blood vessels and up to the brain
- Due to certain medications that affect the hormones, nerves and blood pressure
- Hormonal changes/imbalances (could be due to a poor diet and/or some other health condition)
- Genetic susceptibility – research indicates that 70 to 90 percent of people who suffer from migraines have family members who are afflicted with intense headaches as well
- Food sensitivities (eggs, peanuts and/or dairy)
- Magnesium deficiency – Magnesium is considered the ‘relaxation mineral.’ Without enough of it, migraines and headaches are common
- Vitamin B deficiency
- Melatonin imbalances – could be related to an individual’s sleep cycle
- Sensitivity to gluten (causes inflammation) – this protein is present in rye, barley, wheat, spelt and oats
Diagnosing chronic migraines
While there no diagnostic tests available for migraines, the doctor will take a detailed history and work towards ruling out other conditions that could be causing the migraines
Symptoms of chronic migraines
Migraine symptoms are broken down into four stages: prodrome, aura, headache, and postdrome. These stages are designed to describe the transition from the onset of the symptoms and pain associated with a migraine through the intense periods of pain, finally reaching the point when the pain declines, but continues to linger.
The most common symptoms of a migraine:
- Upset stomach
- Loss of appetite
- Severe pounding in the head – may occur on one side or both sides
- Sensitivity to light and sound
- Increased thirst
- Blurred vision, seeing lines and shapes as well as flashing lights – these symptoms usually occur when the attack has just started
- Difficulty concentrating, speaking normally or carrying on a conversation
- Weakness or numbness in the neck or facial muscles
Conventional treatment of chronic migraines
The conventional treatment for migraines involves the use of medications to reduce inflammation and decrease the pain level.
Some of the drugs frequently used to treat/control migraines include:
- Ibuprofen and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)
- Anti-anxiety/antidepressant medications (including beta-blockers, which alter the neurotransmitter levels)
- Triptan medications – used nearly exclusively for the treatment of migraines
- Anti-nausea medications
- Calcium-channel blockers
- On occasion, patients need anti-seizure medications to control their nerve signals
- Sleep medications
Dr. Jorge Peláez is dedicated to providing his patients with the information and tools that they need to reach optimal health, and wellness. As such, he creates each patient a personalized treatment program. Treatment programs for migraines may include diet changes, stress management, limiting the amount of time spent on the computer and any other electrical device as well as rubbing essential oils on the neck (eucalyptus, lavender, and peppermint), supplements, and heat.
For nearly 20 years, Dr. Peláez concentrated on his career as a neurologist and sleep specialist; however, he has turned his attention to functional medicine. He offers his patients the best of both worlds by taking advantage of the positive aspects of conventional medicine (diagnostic) and incorporating functional medicine into the patient’s treatment program. If you suffer from chronic migraines, click the button below to schedule your initial consultation.