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Volume 70, Issue 47, Wednesday, October 27, 2004

Life & Arts

Migraines more than an another headache

Get Well

Ron Douthitt

Migraines can be 10 kinds of irritating, not to mention downright debilitating. I know a few people who suffer from migraines and their description of a migraine can range from some type of ongoing mild stroke to a horrible case of the flu. I always thought of migraines as really bad headaches, as most do, especially those who use the term loosely. However, a person suffering from a real migraine eventually becomes acutely aware of warning signs and even weather patterns that can trigger an attack. Certain foods can also exacerbate the problem for some.

If you think you suffer from migraines it's best to get yourself checked out and see exactly what's going on. Up until a little less than a decade ago, physicians dealt with migraines with the archaic and potentially addictive drugs that have rendered the patient somewhat unable to carry on throughout the day. Before revolutionary drugs like Imitrex came along, doctors prescribed narcotics like Percodan, which do nothing more than balance the unrelenting pain with some pleasure. Physicians also used a combination drug called Fiorinal, which contained a barbiturate, caffeine and aspirin.

Real migraines are brutal. Some people describe one side of their body either hurting or feeling numb; some describe the pain as sharpness that begins in one side of their brain, then shoots all the way down to the leg. Most claim that the nausea from the feeling of having their equilibrium thrown off is so severe that there is little relief, even when lying down.

What's worse is that women often have a worse time than men, because of hormonal changes. According to Merle Diamond, the associate director of the Diamond Headache Clinic in Chicago, about 70 percent of women who get migraines can predict the onset of their migraines to occur around their periods. Some claim it's the hardest headache to treat because it lasts the longest. While apparently estrogen levels don't cause migraines in women, their levels change twice monthly and women who get migraines get them twice monthly.

Doctors don't really have a clue as to the way to solve these debilitating episodes for people who typically otherwise have productive lives. The court reporter I know who suffers owns a successful business. When one comes on she has to stop everything until the medication works its magic, which she claims isn't always that magical. Studies have proven that changes in blood flow to the brain's cortex and brain stem remain high, even after drugs relieve the migraine's symptoms. Researchers have also discovered that the neurotransmitter serotonin plays a role in migraines as well.

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