Donate to Migraine Headache Research, Patient Care and Education

A migraine headache is defined as severe, throbbing pain or pulsing sensation on one side of the head, which can persist for as long as three days. Nausea, vomiting and sensitivity to light and sound are associated with a migraine headache.

In the United States, there are 39 million people affected by migraines. Globally, more than one billion people experience migraines, making migraines the third most dominant medical issue worldwide. Eighteen percent of women, 10 percent of children and six percent of men suffer from migraine headaches. Additionally, migraines appear to run in families. If one parent suffers from migraines, his or her children have a 50 percent chance of experiencing migraines; if both parents have a history of migraines, the chance of their children experiencing the disease increases to 75 percent.

A migraine is not just a bad headache, but a neurological disease. Many migraine headaches remain undiagnosed and undertreated because the cause of migraine headaches is unclear. It is thought that abnormal brain activity affecting nerve signals, imbalances in brain chemicals and blood vessels may be reasons for recurring headaches. Scientists have been focusing on studying serotonin, which helps regulate pain in the nervous system because serotonin levels drop during a migraine episode.

There is a wide variety of triggers that can induce a migraine attack, including:

  • Food additives, such as nitrates in luncheon meats and monosodium glutamate (MSG)
  • Alcoholic and highly caffeinated beverages
  • Sensory stimuli, such as bright lights, sun glare, and loud noises
  • Changes in sleep patterns
  • Changes in weather, including storm fronts or barometric pressure changes
  • Stress

Preventive treatment would help 25 percent of people with migraines; however, only 12 percent receive treatment. Northwestern Medicine is recognized as a Comprehensive Headache Center, with a multidisciplinary team that provides an extensive evaluation of patients’ headaches. The team consists of board-certified neurologists, pharmacologists and neuropsychologists. You can make a difference with a contribution to Northwestern Medicine to fuel the research needed to provide a better understanding of this disabling disease.

No one specific test exists to diagnose migraine headaches; therefore, it will take a physician some time to make an accurate diagnosis. During a diagnostic consultation, their physician will ask a series of questions about the patient’s lifestyle habits that may pertain to his/her headaches. In addition, the physician may conduct a physical examination by checking the patient’s vision, coordination, reflexes and sensory responses. The physician will likely refer the patients to a neurologist (a specialist in conditions that affect the brain and nervous system) for additional assessments.

There are no cures for migraine headaches; however, there are several treatments to help ease the pain associated with this disease. Physicians classify medications into two groups:

  • Pain-relieving medications, which patients take during attacks in order to relieve symptoms.
  • Preventive medications, which are taken regularly with the objective of reducing the number of migraine attacks.

Some people who struggle with migraines find taking over-the-counter medications, such as paracetamol, aspirin and ibuprofen help to diminish their symptoms. It is important that patients taking over-the-counter medications always read the accompanying instructions and follow the recommended dosages. There are some self-care techniques that can help ease migraine pain, such as meditation and yoga, getting enough sleep, relaxing in a quiet, dark room and assessing headache triggers.

Northwestern Medicine specialists will work with patients to ensure they take the right combination and dosages of medications and take steps to reduce migraine headache triggers. This disabling disease affects a wide variety of people in all age categories.

Migraine Headache Research, Patient Care and Education Donation

Your donation today will help Northwestern Medicine scientists discover new information and treatment options and improve the lives of patients suffering from often debilitating migraine headaches.

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