What inspired Daniel B. Cacioppo, MD, to become a physician? Click here to watch his video bio and find out.
Searing, stabbing, head-spinning pain. It's the hallmark of a migraine. "Migraines are intermittent, moderate to severe headaches which can disrupt people's lives," says Daniel B. Cacioppo, MD, a board-certified neurologist on staff at Northwest Community Hospital. "Sometimes people are unable to work, be productive in the home or go out socially because of them."
According to Dr. Cacioppo, migraines can be triggered by a wide variety of factors, including stress, disrupted sleep, poor nutrition, certain foods and sensory stimulants like bright lights. According to the National Headache Foundation, as many as 12 million people suffering from life-disrupting migraines are undiagnosed.
Migraines produce severe, pulsing pain, along with other symptoms, like nausea or vomiting and extreme sensitivity to light and sound. And, the pain tends to worsen with physical activity. About 15 percent of migraine sufferers also experience auras, such as flashes of light or blind spots in their vision, before a migraine attack.
"A lot of people accept their headaches and think there are no treatments available," Dr. Cacioppo says. "But migraines are a treatable disease—just not a curable disease." Fortunately, many medications are available to help treat migraine headaches, such as over-the-counter pain relievers.
Still, consider talking with your doctor about treatment options, including prescription medications. For example, drugs called triptans are available in several forms (oral, nasal and injection) and can relieve migraine symptoms within two hours.
A critical part of managing migraines is in your own hands. To find the right treatment, work closely with your doctor. Before you go, keep a headache diary by recording when your headaches start, how long they last and what might have triggered them. Also, keep track of your symptoms and the effectiveness of any remedies you used. This information can help your doctor determine the best course of treatment.
Finally, you can also help yourself with some lifestyle changes. Determine what tends to trigger an attack and avoid those things. Eat nutritious meals and get the right amount of sleep on a regular basis. In addition, get at least 30 minutes of aerobic exercise three times a week. If you smoke, quit. These efforts can result in eliminating the frequency of migraines—and getting your life back on track.