If you're battling frequent migraines, relief is in sight. It's possible to
reduce the number of headaches by one-half, maybe more.
In recent years, doctors have discovered that certain drugs -- found among
epilepsyepilepsy, blood pressure, anti-inflammatory, and
antidepressant medicines -- can reduce headache frequency and severity.
Headache pain along with a stuffy, runny nose and itchy, watery eyes. Sounds like a sinus headache, right? Think again.
More than 4 out of 5 people who think they have a sinus headache with symptoms like pain in the head, stuffy nose, and watery eyes actually have migraine headaches.
"It's such a widespread misconception," says neurology professor Peter Goadsby, MD, who heads the University of California, San Francisco's headache program. "It's the size of the problem that stuns me."
These drugs are believed to affect blood vessel and brain chemical activity
involved in migraines. "We're not clear on exactly how these drugs work to
prevent migraines, but we've had good success with them," says George R.
Nissan, DO, director of research for the Diamond Headache Clinic in
The pattern of migraine frequency is an important factor in treatment. Most
migraine sufferers have four to six headaches a month. "Some have tension
headaches every day – a background headache -- plus migraines,"
Relentless migraines take a heavy toll on quality of life. "People lose
jobs, drop out of school, get divorced," Nissan tells WebMD. "There can
be a lot of depressiondepression and anxiety. Lives have been turned
upside down by these headaches."
That's where preventive treatment can help, he says. Some people can
eventually become headache-free, but that's pretty rare, says Nissan. "More
often than not, we're helping people to be functional. We work to minimize, as
much as possible, the frequency and severity of migraines."
The question is, how?
Migraine Treatment: Your Game Plan
Preventive medications have helped greatly, says Jerome Goldstein, MD,
director of the San Francisco Clinical Research Center and Headache Clinic.
"In our clinical trials of these drugs, we have achieved 50% to 60%
reduction in migraine frequency and severity."
However, the preventive drugs aren't perfect. They must be taken every day
to be effective. Also, some brand-name preventive medications can be costly.
Many have side effects -- including weight gain, fatiguefatigue, sleepiness, numbness, tingling, and
If you have other health problems or take other medications, you might be
limited in the preventive drugs you can use, says Nissan. However, if you have
a seizure disorder like epilepsyepilepsy or high
blood pressurehigh blood
pressure, your migraine medication can overlap in treating that
In battling frequent migraines, Goldstein believes in bringing all migraine
drugs to the table -- not just preventive medications. That includes:
Certain supplements (feverfew, magnesium, and vitamin B-2 – may help curb
There is some evidence that even Botox can cut migraine frequency.
"The headache sufferer should have everything available to them to treat
the headache effectively," Goldstein tells WebMD. "We have to weigh the
benefits against the side effects of each drug. Also, does the patient want to
take a medication on a daily basis?"
In deciding the strategy, "the question becomes, do we want to prevent
migraines altogether -- if that's possible -- or do we aim toward treating each
headache individually?" says Goldstein. "For most folks, it may be a
combination of both."
For example, many women have menstrual migraines, says Goldstein. He says
these women may need a daily preventive medication to control chronic migraine
problem, plus another drug -- like an anti-inflammatory or migraine stopper --
to halt a menstrual migraine when it starts.
Stopping the headache is what matters most, Goldstein says. "My personal
feeling is that if a patient can stop a headache within 15 or 20 minutes, it
doesn't matter how many headaches they actually have. After all, there are
people who have only a few migraines a month, but those migraines last three