There are two steps involved in ensuring the best outcomes for a patient with migraine:
1. Correct diagnosis, and
2. Correct treatment.
Diagnosis of Migraine Headaches
Migraine is a common condition, affecting about 15% of women and 5% of men. Often, no tests are required for diagnosing migraine. Despite this, there is a significant delay in diagnosis of migraine in many cases. The correct diagnosis depends on the clinical features. Therefore, a good history, as given by the patient, is often sufficient for the diagnosis of migraine. The details can be read on my earlier post in May 2011
Treatment of Migraine Headaches
Starting appropriate treatment is equally important.
Many patients come to me telling that there is no treatment available for migraine or it can not be cured or I have to suffer with these headaches whole life and so on. So, they never take any treatment. Obviously, it is totally incorrect. There are excellent treatments available for treating migraine, and more than 95% of patients get better with proper treatment. You can read about these treatments later on in this post.
There is another group of patients who take only pain-killers, as and when they get headaches. This approach is not correct and may be harmful too, on account of three reasons:
1. Taking a pain-killer may help in reducing one episode of headache, however, it does not prevent the recurrence of headaches in future.
2. Pain-killers may cause side effects such as gastric ulcers, acidity, liver damage and kidney damage, if used for long.
3. Taking more than 15 tablets of pain-killers per month may actually worsen the headaches, a condition called as analgesic-abuse or analgesic-overuse headaches.
On account of the above, it is advised to restrict the use of pain-killers to as low as as possible.
Medical treatment of Migraine
1. If a person has only one or two episodes of headaches per month, then, there is no need of any preventive medications. Use of analgesics may be justified in these cases, as and when they get headaches. Common drugs in this category include-
- Zandu balm or tiger balm (very popular in India)
2. Preventive therapy of migraine-
If a patient gets more than two episodes of headaches per month, then, it is important to start preventive medications (on daily basis) so that the headache frequency and severity can be minimised (or stopped).
Common drugs in this category include:
- Beta blockers such as propranolol,
- Divalproex sodium
Patients, who do not show adequate improvement with above, can be treated with botox injections. More details on this can be read in my previous post (October 2012)
I hope this article provides a little help to those with migraine. If you have any further queries, please mail me.
Dr Sudhir Kumar MD (Internal Medicine), DM (Neurology)
Senior Consultant Neurologist
Apollo Hospitals, Hyderabad