What’s With My Head: New Headache Specialist, Menstrual Migraine, Allergies & Reading

New Headache Specialist
I saw the headache specialist several readers have recommended and really liked him. After more than two hours with me (we had to schedule a second appointment to fit it all in!) he speculated that some of my headaches are actually caused by new daily persistent headache. In the past, my chronic daily headache was always attributed to migraine transforming to everyday.

Although the doctor wants to see me monthly, the next available appointment is in March. Before then I’m supposed to get a lumbar puncture (spinal tap) and more blood work. My last lumbar puncture resulted in a three-week headache and wasn’t responsive to a blood patch. I’m not looking forward to it.

Menstrual Migraine
I got a birth control pill prescription to see if it will manage the two-day migraines I get when my period starts. In typical fashion, I haven’t filled the prescription. The migraine that kept me in bed my first two days of vacation in Mexico should motivate me to to take it to the pharmacy.

Allergies
After always feeling worse after vacation, I finally admitted my headaches and migraines are worse in Seattle than elsewhere. I was in Kansas for a funeral the last weekend of October. I was shocked to wake up two mornings in a row with a barely perceptible headache. Nor was I as congested as I always am at home. I took Zyrtec for a few days and both my congestion and migraines were less. Not a reliable experiment. It unfortunately made me nauseated, so I couldn’t keep taking it. I’m trying Claritin now.

When I was tested for allergies when I was 14, I responded most strongly to mold. That wasn’t an issue in Phoenix — quite the opposite in Seattle. Studies indicate than while allergies don’t cause headache, they can trigger migraines. Thursday I’m seeing an allergist and will probably get tested for allergies. Maybe she can sort something out.

Migraines Triggered By Reading & Working on the Computer
These are still in full-force, hence my infrequent posts. A loved one who is an ophthalmologist gave me a thorough vision and eyestrain exam when I was in Phoenix for Thanksgiving. The diagnosis was convergence insufficiency. That means:

Convergence insufficiency occurs when your eyes don’t turn inward properly when you focus on a nearby object. When you read or look at a nearby object, your eyes should turn inward while you focus, so you can see a single image. But if you have convergence insufficiency, you need to use extra effort to move your eyes inward for focusing. This extra effort results in various symptoms, including eyestrain.

I’m now using an eye patch when I read or am on the computer. So far, I’ve been able to squeak out about an hour on computer with it. I still get a headache if I push it, but it is mild and doesn’t explode into a migraine. If the eye patch continues to be OK, I’ll get prescription reading glasses with a prism, which I can wear over my contacts.

Sorting Out My Hormonal/Menstrually Associated Migraines

As the frequency of my migraine episodes has reduced this year, I was finally able to tell that I always get a migraine the first and second or third day of my period. Today once again provided confirmation.

My plan was to try hormonal birth control, like the pill, as a preventive. Researching this post has me reconsidering. Turns out women with migraine who use birth control pills are eight times more likely to have a stroke than women who don’t. This applies to everyone with migraine, not just those with aura (who are twice as likely to have a stroke than migraineurs who don’t have visual auras).

Other treatment options exist. Most of them I’ve already taken without success. Magnesium, which I think is responsible for decreasing the frequency of my migraines, is a common treatment. Unfortunately I’m already at the highest dose of magnesium I appear to be able to tolerate without extreme nausea.

I found on headache specialist Christina Peterson’s website that a small study of black cohosh shows it may be effective in treating menstrually associated migraine. Because there has only been one study, there is no confirmation that it works. Nonetheless, I’ll be researching black cohosh extensively. It is in the same family as rununculus, one of my favorite flowers — maybe that’s a sign it will help my head!

I thought hormonal birth control would be the ticket. A stroke would certainly be worse than having two more migraines a month.

If your migraines are associated with your menstrual cycle, please let me know if you’ve found an effective treatment. Leave a comment below or respond to the forum post with your suggestions.

Lower Risk of Breast Cancer for Women With Migraine

Finally, some good news for migraineurs. Women with migraine had a 30 percent lower risk of breast cancer than those without, according to a recently released study. Hormonal changes, which commonly trigger migraine, are a potential link.

In particular, migraine history appeared to reduce the risk of the most common subtypes of breast cancer: those that are estrogen-receptor and/or progesterone-receptor positive. Such tumors have estrogen and/or progesterone receptors, or docking sites, on the surface of their cells, which makes them more responsive to hormone-blocking drugs than tumors that lack such receptors.

The biological mechanism behind the association between migraines and breast cancer is not fully known, but Li and colleagues suspect that it has to do with fluctuations in levels of circulating hormones.

National Headache Awareness Week: Get a Head S.T.A.R.T. on Your Headaches

In recognition of the 15th annual National Headache Awareness Week, the National Headache Foundation (NHF) is announcing a series of events across the country in order to educate the public about types of headache and their impact on daily living, as well as stressing the importance of seeking an accurate diagnosis and appropriate treatments. This year’s National Headache Awareness Week takes place June 1-7, 2008. Nearly 21 million people were reached last year through this successful annual campaign.

“One of our primary goals during National Headache Awareness Week is to gain recognition of headache pain as a real and legitimate condition,” said Dr. Seymour Diamond, Executive Chairman of the National Headache Foundation. “Over 45 million Americans get chronic, recurring headaches. Of this number, nearly 30 million have migraine headaches.”

Activities taking place across the country this week include headache screenings, educational seminars led by expert physicians, menstrual migraine awareness events and a 5-part podcast series focusing on women’s headache issues, a radio news release and the launch of a non-profit NHF channel on YouTube.

This year, the NHF is encouraging sufferers to “Get a Head S.T.A.R.T. on Your Headaches,” offering five easy-to-remember strategies for effective headache management and treatment:

  • Seek diagnosis — Obtaining the correct diagnosis for your headache is the first step toward effective treatment.
  • Triggers — Identify and track your triggers (e.g., foods, stress, hormonal and weather changes) by keeping a headache diary and share this information with your healthcare provider.
  • Advocate — Be an advocate. Be informed. Be a participant in your headache care.
  • Resources — Utilize the National Headache Foundation as a resource. Visit www.headaches.org for the latest information about headache causes and treatments, or call 1-888-NHF-5552.
  • Treatment — Successful treatment may include medications and lifestyle changes. Work with your healthcare provider to find the right plan for you.

For the first time, this year’s campaign is drawing specific attention to menstrual migraines by designating Wednesday, June 4th as National Menstrual Migraine Awareness Day. In support of Menstrual Migraine Awareness Day efforts, the NHF will also be releasing new survey data from a recent poll of its website respondents suffering from menstrual migraine.

Additionally, the NHF is hosting a five-part podcast series specifically addressing women’s headache issues including Hormones & Headache, Contraception & Headaches, Pregnancy & Headache, Menopause & Headaches and Menstrual Migraine. Podcasts and expert questions and answers are available through links on the National Headache Awareness Week page.

This post is adapted from a National Headache Foundation press release. -Kerrie

Migraine Treatment News

Migraine_treatmentsHere’s the roundup of migraine treatments. Other news posts I’m working on are about presentations at the International Headache Society’s conference (including cluster headache news), depression and chronic pain.

Migraine Patients Who Take Triptans Report Greater Satisfaction Than Patients Taking Barbituates or Opioids
Survey: Migraine Patients Taking Potentially Addictive Barbiturate or Opioid
Medications Not Approved By FDA as Migraine Treatments

The survey found that patients taking triptans are significantly more likely than those taking barbiturates or opioids to report that their medication works well at relieving migraine symptoms, with sixty percent of triptan patients reporting that it describes their medication “extremely” or “very” well to say it relieves their migraines symptoms completely compared with 42 percent of patients taking barbiturates and opioids.

Patients taking opioids and barbiturates for their migraines also reported a lower quality of life than patients taking triptans, according to the survey. Patients taking these drugs were twice as likely as patients on triptans to say that migraines “always” limited their ability to exercise or play sports (35% vs. 14%), engage in sexual activity (33% vs. 17%), drive a car (28% vs. 14%), spend time with family and friends (28% vs. 8%) or simply get out of the house (33% vs. 15%).

Though many patients are prescribed barbiturates and opioids for their migraines, the majority indicated that they prefer their migraine medication to be FDA approved for the disease, not addictive and have
few side effects. Seven out of ten patients (72%) surveyed said it’s “extremely” or “very” important that their prescription medications not be addictive, and eight out of ten patients (79%) said it’s “extremely”
or “very” important that their prescription medication have only minor side effects. Sixty-five percent said it’s important that their migraine medication be approved by the FDA to treat the disease.

Frova for Menstrual Migraine
Endo’s Menstrual Migraine Treatment Better Than Placebo in Study

Endo Pharmaceuticals said that its Frova 2.5mg tablets reduced the frequency and severity of difficult-to-treat menstrual migraine in women when used as a six-day preventative regimen.

Predicting Botox ‘s Effectiveness
Cutaneous Allodynia Predicts Response to Botulinum Toxin Type A in Migraine Patients

Botulinum toxin type A has been reported to be effective in preventing migraine attacks in some patients but not in others.

[R]esearchers found that patients with cutaneous allodynia had experienced significant reductions (P <.01) in migraine frequency and number of headache days in response to botulinum toxin type A, whereas patients without cutaneous allodynia had no such improvement in symptoms.

[I]nvestigators concluded that cutaneous allodynia could be used to predict which migraine patients are likely to respond to prophylactic therapy with botulinum toxin.

DHE Relieves Skin Sensitivity (Allodynia)
Migraine With Skin Sensitivity Eased By Older Drug

Dihydroergotamine or DHE, an established drug for migraine, works well even when the attack is accompanied by super-sensitivity to touch or heat and cold, according to researchers.

Many migraine sufferers get relief from the newer drugs known as triptans, but these are less effective when people also have heightened skin sensitivity. This condition, called cutaneous allodynia, makes even a light touch to the face or neck feel painful.

“Unlike triptans, DHE works in the presence of allodynia, any time in the migraine attack,” lead investigator Dr. Stephen D. Silberstein told Reuters Health.

Migraine Preventives
Migraines: Symptoms Disappear With The Right Prevention

According to Greek researchers, migraine sufferers can eliminate symptoms altogether if they take higher doses of anti-migraine medicine for a longer period of time than is now customary. Another team of researchers has found that certain psychopharmaceuticals could serve as a new therapy option for persistent chronic headaches.

“In treating migraines, optimizing the effect of already available agents is at least as important a task as developing new substances.”

I’m a little wary of this article, but wanted you to know about it. Take it with a grain of salt.