Health Tips Tuesday: National Migraine and Headache Awareness Month

The month of June is National Migraine and Headache Awareness Month. Western Mass News spoke with Dr. James Otis, the Vice Chair of Neurosciences and Rehabilita
Published: Jun. 27, 2023 at 7:24 PM EDT
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SPRINGFIELD, Mass. (WGGB/WSHM) - The month of June is National Migraine and Headache Awareness Month. Western Mass News spoke with Dr. James Otis, the Vice Chair of Neurosciences and Rehabilitation at Baystate Health, to discuss the impact of migraines and what can be done to relieve the pain.

First and foremost, doctor, what is a migraine and what causes them?

Dr. Otis: “Oh, thanks, David. Well, migraines are a very specific type of headache. Although most people think migraine is just bad headache, they’re actually a special category that’s caused by chemical changes in the brain. And migraines are characterized by not just head pain, but also other symptoms. Sometimes there is an aura, which can be flashing lights or zigzag lines, usually followed in by a headache and then severe sensitivity to light, smell, sound, and frequently nausea and vomiting. And usually, the most important characteristic of the migraine is that when patients have them, they really are unable to function. So, that really separates them from your typical tension-type headache or muscle-related headache.”

That sounds awful. Is there certain people that are more susceptible to migraines?

Dr. Otis: “Absolutely. There tends to be a family predisposition to migraines. So, if you have parents that have migraine or siblings that have migraine, you can see that. There’s certain very rare familial migraine syndromes, but those are pretty uncommon. And then, unfortunately, migraines are also hormonally determined. So, women tend to be more prone to migraines, particularly during childbearing years because of the effect of estrogen.”

So what are the treatments that people can expect if they have a migraine?

Dr. Otis: “So, first line treatments are the typical things that you get over the counter, acetaminophen, ibuprofen, naproxen sodium, and the like. Most of those people, obviously, we don’t see in medical practice because they tend to do pretty well on their own. After that, there are very specific medications that work very well for the acute migraine attacks. And those are drugs called tryptans, and more recently, a new class of drug called G-Pants. And if patients have migraines that happen more than two times per month, we generally prefer to put them on medications to prevent the migraine, rather than just treat them as they come. So, there’s a variety of medications that are used for that. Many of them are old drugs that are used for other treatments, other disorders such as hypertension, seizures, and mood problems, and those work extremely well for about 80% of patients. There are now newer drugs. Some of them are injectable and some of them are oral that can be used for prevention as well. And then finally, there’s botulinum toxin which requires injections every three months. And then, there are certain devices and even transcranial electrical stimulation has been used for the more refractory types of migraine.”