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Headaches are painful, debilitating, and sometimes even life-threatening. If you suffer from chronic headaches or migraines, you’re not alone—about 15% of Americans do, according to the Migraine Research Foundation (MRF). Unfortunately, just under half of all migraine patients receive the treatment they need to control their headaches because many doctors fail to diagnose and treat them properly.

What is a migraine?

A migraine is a headache that may be accompanied by nausea, vomiting, and sensitivity to light. A migraine causes throbbing pain on one side of your head or around your temples. This is often combined with sensitivity to light and noise, making it difficult for sufferers to concentrate or do anything else. Although migraines are painful, they’re generally not considered dangerous or life-threatening.

Diagnosing the pain

First, determine if your headache is actually a migraine. Most headaches are not migraines, so even if you get one or two migraine headaches every month it may not mean you have chronic migraines. In general, a migraine is severe, with symptoms on both sides of your head and sensitivity to light and sound.

The different types of migraines

If you have migraines, you already know that not all headaches are created equal. According to Dr. Morgenstern, a headache specialist, three types of migraine headaches are migraines with aura, common migraines and drug-induced migraines.

The triggers that make migraines worse

If you’re experiencing migraine headaches, there are probably several triggers that set them off. Common treiggers include stress, anxiety, lack of sleep and skipping meals. Keeping track of your triggers can help you get better control of your headaches. By keeping a journal of everything you eat, drink and what you do before each headache, you can pin down potential the possible “suspects.” Once you identify what may be triggering your migraines, avoid it or limit it as much as possible.

Which migraine meds are right for you?

Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are an effective first-line treatment for migraine headache. SSRIs prevent serotonin from being absorbed by nerve cells in your brain, which can trigger migraines in some people. Other types of migraine drugs include triptans and anti-epileptic medications. A physician can help you find a medication that’s right for you.

Preventive care – what you can do to avoid migraines

If you think you may have migraines, start by speaking with your doctor. He or she will ask questions about your headache history and symptoms and perform a physical exam. From there, they’ll help you devise an appropriate migraine treatment plan based on your specific needs.