Use your head to outsmart migraines

Use your head to outsmart migraines

Lawrence C. Newman, MD, FAAN, Director of The Headache Institute

For some 28 million people, migraines rank near the top of life’s most painful experiences. To make matters worse, migraine pain is difficult to pinpoint, so it’s difficult to treat. When a migraine might occur and what triggers it are also unpredictable.

No need to suffer alone

The Headache Institute at St. Luke's and Roosevelt Hospitals is making life easier for New Yorkers suffering from migraines by exposing what causes these and other headaches. Here, specialists know firsthand that the right diagnosis leads to the right treatment. “Our neurologists not only specialize in headaches, we’re all migraine sufferers,” says the Institute’s Director Dr. Lawrence Newman.

Though there have been recent advancements in medical migraine management, the first step is to try and manage the pain through self-care. According to Dr. Newman, something called “headache hygiene” could help. “We want to control our environment to keep our circuits running smoothly,” he says.

Practice the SEEDS technique to avoid a migraine:

> Sleep – Too much or too little sleep can trigger migraines. Get the recommended eight hours of shut-eye per night. Remember, you can’t make up for missed sleep.

> Eat – Skipped meals, excessive caffeine and some preservatives like MSG or nitrates can trigger attacks. Stick with lean unprocessed meats, fruits, veggies and low-fat dairy, and schedule regular meals and snacks.

> Exercise – At least 30 minutes of exercise three days a week can relieve your muscles of tension and lower blood pressure.

> Drink – Dehydration can cause blood vessels to constrict. Fit in eight glasses of water per day. Keeping a water bottle with you throughout the day might help.

> Stress Management – Stressful situations can set off migraines. Practicing yoga, meditation and deep breathing can help prevent and deal with stressful situations.

If self-care isn’t enough, Dr. Newman and his team may administer biofeedback to retrain the brain and teach it how to relieve tension in the head and neck muscles and regulate temperature. The institute also offers Botox, which recently received approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration as a safe treatment to prevent chronic migraines.

“All the cutting-edge therapies for migraines and headaches are done here,” Dr. Newman says. “Once we learn what’s right for the patient, most find relief and can return to their normal lives.”

Migraines in kids

Many think of migraines as an adult condition, but in reality, half of all migraine sufferers have their first attack before age 12 and even as early as age two. “We started the Adolescent Center because we know migraines are a genetic disorder,” Dr. Newman explains. “Often in children, the symptoms don’t mimic that of an adult migraine, making it harder to diagnose.”

Migraines in kids and adolescents can last from a few hours to three days, and are often accompanied by distinctive symptoms:

  • Pounding or throbbing pain in the front or both sides of the head
  • Presence of visual aura before the headache in a minority of patients
  • Irritability
  • Nausea, vomiting and/or abdominal pain

Unlike some other tendencies, kids don’t always outgrow migraines. According to the Migraine Research Foundation, about 60 percent of people who had migraines in adolescence report ongoing migraines after age 30.

“The earlier you can break the cycle, the better chance you have at preventing it,” Dr. Newman says. “The brain somehow learns how to continue to develop headaches. If left unchecked, people get day-to-day headaches that can eventually be very difficult to treat.”

He encourages you to see a doctor if you or anyone in your family is suffering from debilitating headaches. “Migraines are one of the most common reasons for a trip to the doctor’s office, but they’re also widely misdiagnosed,” Dr. Newman says. “We’ve become the place for families to find treatment that stops the pain.”

Find relief for your headache or migraine by scheduling an appointment with The Headache Institute. Call 1-855-411-LWNY (5969) or visit www.chpnyc.org/headache.

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