While migraine headaches are at the top of illnesses blamed for missed work days and lack of productivity, the mystery and sometimes the misinformation that has been prevalent about migraine headaches may mean that many of these “migraine” headaches have been self-diagnosed and are not migraines at all. They may be cluster headaches, tension headaches, dehydration, allergies to certain foods, seasonal allergies, extreme anxiety and stress, and many other medical and psychiatric problems. The issue is that if people are not thoroughly examined and tested by a neurologist, these individuals may be suffering needlessly. Like many medical problems, an accurate diagnosis must be achieved before good control and treatment of the condition can be achieved.
According to News Press Now, June is migraine headache awareness month, and while it’s unknown the number of people who suffer from migraines and don’t know it, or think they suffer from migraine headache and it is actually something else, is a very large number and doctors say it is concerning for many reasons. Not only are migraine headaches debilitating, they also can mean that the sufferer is at risk for cerebrovascular accidents and their chances of death are higher than the population on average, because migraines are thought to be a result of blood vessel irregularities that may be brought about for multiple reasons, including genetics.
Dr. Ira Turner, a neurologist who specializes in all types of headaches at Island Neurological Association in Long Island, gives a definition of what a migraine headache really is.
“…a severe disabling, throbbing headache associated with nausea, or sometimes vomiting, and light and noise sensitivity that can last from four to 72 hours.”
But, while that is a debilitating malady, there are other headaches that can cause very similar symptoms, and many people self diagnose and even order prescription medications like sumatriptan from other countries, where regulation of medications may not be up to par with FDA guidelines for prescription meds.
Twelve percent of the population suffers from “episodic” migraine headaches, which means that while they occasionally get a debilitating migraine or migraine-like headaches, they are fairly far apart. About two to three percent of the population get chronic migraines, which are defined as headaches that occur 15 days or more a month for at least four hours at a time. Undoubtedly these individuals, which account for 3 million people, likely find work or personal relationships like marriage or parenting to be nearly impossible.
The problem, according to Dr. Turner, is that many of these individuals are told they have sinus headaches, and the medication they are given for that can actually raise blood pressure, worsening their headache and making them more at risk for associated diseases like cardiovascular problems. Their situation may lead to severe depression and anxiety, because their lives are so affected that every day is an unknown for them, and none of the medications that they are given seem to help.
“The most important thing is first getting an accurate diagnosis. Without an accurate diagnosis you can’t get accurate therapy. Many nonspecific therapies are out there and available but very so often they are only minimally effective and in some cases they may actually make the migraine conditions worse by overusing them.”
Right now, the only FDA-approved medication for the diagnosis of migraine headache is Botox, according to Dr. Tuner, and that medication if very effective because it paralyzes the blood vessels in the brain that may be in spasm, but unfortunately can have a potentially deadly side-effect or adverse reaction such as paralysis of the diaphragm, or the muscle in the chest the aids in breathing. People who are treated with Botox need specific education and observation by their physician.
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