Migraine Prevention Rare in Women

Only 3% to 5% of Women With Migraines Seek Preventive Treatment

Medically Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD on September 08, 2006

Sept. 8, 2006 -- More than 28 million American women get migraines, but only 3% to 5% of them seek preventive therapy.

In fact, migraines are more common among American women than type 2 diabetesdiabetes, osteoarthritisosteoarthritis, or asthmaasthma.

So say Beverly Tozer, MD, and colleagues at the Mayo Clinic in Scottsdale, Ariz.

"Almost one-fourth of women in their reproductive years experience migraines," Tozer says, in a Mayo Clinic news release.

"During these years, women are building both their families and their careers," Tozer notes, calling migraines "an important issue in women's health."

What can women to do prevent migraines? Tozer's team reviewed research on that topic and published these findings in Mayo Clinic Proceedings:

1. Avoid Triggers

Migraine triggers can many forms. Here are four common triggers that Tozer and colleagues advise all migraine patients to avoid:

MenstruationMenstruation, stressstress, and anxiety are also often migraine triggers, the researchers note.

2. Lead a Healthy Lifestyle

Migraine patients should "adopt a healthy lifestyle that includes regular sleep and exercise," write Tozer and colleagues.

They also recommend using "nonpharmacological means of migraine reduction such as relaxation and biofeedback."

Biofeedback is a mind-body technique in which patients learn to consciously control a body function -- like skin temperature, heart rate, or blood pressure -- that normally is regulated automatically by the body.

Here's what happens: You wear sensors on your head and elsewhere to let you "hear" or "see" certain bodily functions like pulse, digestion, body temperature, and muscle tension. The squiggly lines and/or beeps on monitors reflect what's going on inside your body. It's similar to watching a heart monitor in action.

Then you learn to control those beeps and squiggles. After a few sessions, there's no need for sensors or monitors.

Biofeedback has gained widespread acceptance as a treatment for migraines.

3. Keep a Migraine Diary

Tozer's team recommends keeping a migraine diary, especially if you start taking medicine to prevent migraines.

About half of patients who take medicine for migraine prevention don't respond right away, Tozer and colleagues note.

Jot down the frequency, severity, and length of your migraines, and any migraine prevention methods you're using. That way, you have a log of what works and what doesn't.

4. Talk to Your Doctor

If lifestyle changes don't sufficiently curb your migraines, it's time to talk to your doctor.

Currently, there is no single medicine guaranteed to knock out migraines. But there are options that may help.

For instance, some women with hormonally sensitive migraines find relief with birth controlbirth control pills. Others may use certain antidepressants or pain relievers.

The researchers also note "emerging evidence" that Botox injections may help prevent migraines, but that's not certain yet.

Each patient is different, so women and their doctors should work together to weigh the risks and benefits of migraine-preventing medicines.

For instance, some migraine-prevention drugs, such as valproic acid, divalproex sodium, and ergot derivatives, shouldn't be taken during pregnancypregnancy due to the risk of birth defects.

5. Keep Age in Mind

Migraines can happen at any point in life, but they're most common during the childbearing years.

After menopausemenopause, migraines often improve. That's probably due to stabilizing hormone levels, note Tozer and colleagues.

"Migraine beginning after age 65 is extremely uncommon and warrants thorough investigation," the researchers write.

In other words, if you're older than 65 and getting migraines for the first time in your life, see a doctor to rule out other illnesses.

Also, doctors generally recommend lower doses of all preventive medicines in elderly patients "to avoid untoward effects," the researchers write.

Show Sources

SOURCES: Tozer, B. Mayo Clinic Proceedings, August 2006; vol 81: pp 1086-1092. WebMD Feature: "Biofeedback Trains Mind, Body to Make Changes." News release, Mayo Clinic.
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