Dr. Eugenia Blank, is a board-certified neurologist based in Medford, MA.
Migraine headaches are a common neurological disorder affecting as many as 40 million Americans. Migraines are recognizable by the intense pain, usually on one side of the head, and a number of side effects including throbbing pain, nausea, sensitivity to light or a visual aura. A migraine may last for anywhere between one and 72 hours, or even longer. “Anyone who has experienced migraines understands just how debilitating they can be,” said Eugenia Blank, MD, a Tufts Medical Center Community Care neurologist, who sees patients at the neurology office at Lawrence Memorial Hospital in Medford.
Who gets migraine headaches?
“Researchers have identified several risk factors or causes of migraines,” says Dr. Blank, “which basically come down to genetics and environmental or lifestyle factors and triggers.” On the genetics side, we know that many migraine sufferers tend to have a family history – mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers – who also have migraines. We also know that women are up to three times more likely to suffer from migraines than men and that women’s migraines may occur in conjunction with their monthly cycles.
Although people can begin having migraines at any age, they tend to begin during adolescence, peak during the 30s, and gradually become less severe and less frequent after that.
“There are many different things that trigger migraines,” said Dr. Blank. “Every patient is unique, and it is important for us to work together to identify and then try to mitigate those triggers.” Some of the most common triggers for migraines include:
- Hormonal changes in women
- Foods and food additives
- Sensory stimuli – including bright lights and strong sounds or smells
- Changes in sleep patterns
- Physical exertion
- Changes in weather
According to Dr. Blank, treating migraines can be similar to solving a puzzle. “When people suffering from migraines visit me, the first thing we look at is lifestyle, including sleep, hydration, nutrition and exercise. Can we get more sleep or cut out certain foods to find relief?”
Beyond that there are two types of medication groups used to treat migraines.
- The first type relieves pain. These include medications such as aspirin, ibuprofen, acetaminophen and others such as triptans (which constrict blood vessels), caffeine combination drugs and anti-nausea medications.
- The second type of medication helps to prevent or reduce the frequency, severity and length of migraines.
Other approaches to migraine treatment that have been known to ease pain include physical therapy, acupuncture and massage.
“Finding the right treatment options or combination of options may take some time, but is definitely worth the effort,” said Dr. Blank.
“Botox was approved to treat adults with chronic migraines about ten years ago,” said Dr. Blank. “Botox is injected around the pain fibers associated with headaches. It enters the nerve endings and blocks the release of chemicals that transmit pain signals. This prevents the activation of pain networks in the brain.” Botox treatments last for 12 weeks. Patients should only receive these shots from a physician who is trained in providing Botox for migraine treatment.
Talk to your physician
Similar to other chronic conditions, it is important to speak with your primary care physician if you are experiencing migraines. Your physician may want to refer you to a neurologist who specializes in the treatment of migraines. It may also be helpful to keep a journal to track the frequency, symptoms and intensity of your migraines.
Dr. Eugenia Blank is a general neurologist with a special interest in treating headaches. Her office is located at Lawrence Memorial Hospital in Medford. For more information or to make an appointment, please call 781-213-5201.
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