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Don't Make These Migraine Mistakes

Treating migraine headaches with too many tests or prolonged use of prescription pain medication is risky.

If you’re one of the more than 30 million Americans who suffer from migraines, you know getting treatment that works can be tough. These are not your average headaches, either. A migraine includes severe, often debilitating throbbing head pain that can last hours or even days. It can cause nausea or vomiting and vision disturbances. And for many people, especially women, they can recur on a regular basis.

Migraine Treatment Don'ts
Migraine treatments vary widely -- from locking yourself in a dark, quiet room to regular use of prescription medications. Now, a medical group of migraine experts says too many doctors are offering treatments that either don’t work, or actually do more harm than good.

In November, 2013, the American Headache Society (AHS) released its list of things doctors should NOT to do to treat migraines. The list includes treatments considered standard practice:

  • Don't use opioid painkillers or the barbiturate butalbital long term. The group says that while they work in the short term, using these potentially addictive prescription painkillers can include serious long-term risks. Especially since migraines are often a chronic disorder and many people battle them for decades.
  • Don't perform brain scans on patients whose headaches are stable. And if a scan is needed, an MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) is preferable to a CT or computed tomography scan in non-emergency situations. That's because CT scans deliver a concentrated dose of radiation, which can increase cancer risks.
  • Long-term use of over-the-counter pain medications for migraines should be discouraged.Aspirin or ibuprofen can work well for occasional attacks, but taking them on a daily basis is not good for your kidneys, liver or stomach. Plus, they can cause what's known as a "rebound headache" once the medication wears off.
  • Finally, the group issued a warning about new surgical procedures said to relieve migraines. The recommendations say surgically "deactivating" migraine trigger points is too new and should not be done outside of a clinical trial. The procedure was discovered after some migraine patients who had facial cosmetic surgery said their headaches stopped.

Treating Yourself to Pain Relief
So what does the group recommend? It says the triptan family of drugs (like Imitrex or Zomig) can be very effective and well tolerated, especially if taken early in a migraine attack.

There are also natural alternatives to treating a migraine once it hits. Taking good care of yourself during an episode is a great place to start. You can:

  • Apply cold compresses to your forehead
  • Sit or lie down and limit activity
  • Avoid sensory input such as light, noise or odors
  • Take a nap or sleep if possible

You may also want to ask your doctor about treatments like biofeedback, acupuncture or relaxation therapy. Some nutritional therapies and herbal supplements may also help. Studies have shown that magnesium or vitamin B2 can benefit migraine sufferers. And some evidence shows that Botox injections can also help people with chronic daily migraines.

There are also things you can do to help prevent a migraine from happening. The AHS says get enough sleep and don’t skip meals. Managing stress levels can also help. Knowing what triggers your migraine can help you prevent the next one, so keep a headache journal to look for patterns.

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