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Headache Care

Study offers migraine sufferers fast relief

Monday, Jan 25 2010


Marie DeBolt had constant headaches, but she brushed them off as allergies to strong-scented perfumes or tobacco smoke that overstimulated her sinuses.

Sometimes the pain would be so excruciating that it would make her nauseated and occasionally dizzy. She noticed the headaches were worst during menstruation.

At the urging of a physician, DeBolt went to see a neurologist.

DeBolt found out she was one of about 30 million people that the National Headache Foundation says are living with migraines. Neurologists have been actively studying migraines — thought to be a genetic disorder — over the past two decades to understand why they happen and how best to treat the symptoms.

Nashville Neuroscience at Baptist Hospital is studying medications to possibly treat migraines, both to prevent the pain when warning signs begin and to interrupt the headache early on. Patients are also taught to learn the triggers that set off their throbbing headaches.

“Migraines can be very disruptive to a patient’s life, but most patients can be offered treatment,” said Dr. Jan Lewis Brandes, a neurologist at the clinic. “The goal is to get someone pain-free as soon as possible and shut down the attack.”

Brandes’ current study, for which she is enrolling participants, looks at a new way to deliver a medicine that stops a migraine early on.

DeBolt is participating in the study to help prevent other migraine sufferers from going through the debilitating pain. She is on a daily maintenance medication to keep her from getting a headache. The medication in the study, which comes in the form of a pen that blasts the drug through the skin, is used in the early onset of her migraine. Journaling for the study also helps her see what activates her headaches.

“I had suffered probably needlessly for maybe three years,” DeBolt said. “I have learned to recognize the triggers now. Before, I didn’t really know what they were.”

Women are three times more likely to suffer from migraines than men. In childhood, boys are the predominant migraine sufferers, but the roles switch during puberty. Researchers believe hormone fluctuations in women may trigger migraines, according to the National Headache Foundation.

Stages of a migraine

She said migraines have four stages, though not every person goes through all the stages. Migraines can last between four and 72 hours.

The first stage indicates a migraine may be coming, and shows signs such as yawning, food cravings or feelings of extreme tiredness. The second stage is called sensory aura, in which people may see flashes of light or empty spots in their line of vision. In the third stage, the headache begins and the person may be sensitive to light and sounds, which can be painful. Some people are nauseated or dizzy.

And in the final stage, when the headache subsides, people may feel as if they were “hit by a truck” and be extremely exhausted. Stage four can last for about a day.

Brandes’ upcoming studies will look at more preventive treatments and acute treatment, which focuses on stopping the attack as it begins. She is also interested in investigating more on chronic migraines, which affect more than 4 million people who have the headaches 15 days or more a month.

For DeBolt, her oral migraine medications can take more than 30 minutes to start working, and that’s a lot of time out of her days as a nurse. She said she sees quick relief within minutes from the new pen-blast medicine.

“I don’t miss work, I don’t miss things with my family, and I don’t walk around with the headache that feels like my head is in a drum with constant pressure,” DeBolt said.

Brandes said about 60 percent of migraine sufferers have a headache on one side of the head, while the rest have it on both sides. The pain can be behind the eyes or in the back of the head, and sometimes it is mistaken for a sinus or tension headache.

Contact Christina E. Sanchez at 615-726-5961 or .

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