What Not to Do for Migraines
Experts issue new guidelines to avoid unnecessary tests, risky treatments
"MRI can diagnose more conditions that may cause headache that CT scans can miss," Loder explained.
Also, unlike CT scans, MRIs use powerful magnets and do not expose patients to radiation. "MRI is better value and safer," Loder concluded.
The headache specialists also said that surgery targeting migraine trigger points is still experimental and not recommended outside of a clinical trial.
"We lack sufficient evidence to say the benefits of surgery outweigh the potential harms or that it is even helpful," Loder cautioned. Before new drugs can be approved for use, they must go through rigorous testing that meets a certain standard, she noted, "and the standard for surgical interventions that are irreversible should not be lower."
Finally, prolonged or frequent use of over-the-counter pain medications for headache is also unwise, the guidelines state. People shouldn't take these drugs more than twice a week, noted Wells.
Loder agreed. "It's not good for the kidneys, liver or stomach to be taking these medications on a daily basis," Loder said. "There are a lot of strategies that can work that are better than just grabbing handfuls of Motrin."
So what does work for most migraine sufferers? Triptans are a family of drugs used to stop migraines once they start, Loder said. And preventive therapies such as biofeedback can be used on a regular basis by people who experience frequent migraines, she added. Biofeedback is a technique that people can learn to use to help change how their body responds to physical symptoms.
Getting enough sleep and not skipping meals can also help keep migraine pain at bay, she suggested.
Migraine treatment and perceptions of the condition itself have changed dramatically over the years. Scientists now believe migraine has a genetic link and that the disorder involves brain chemistry and nerve pathways.
"We understand a lot more about different kinds of headache and have specific treatments that work," Loder said.
It's estimated that 12 percent of Americans get migraine headaches, three times as many women as men.