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Migraine headache: 5 things to know

Kathleen Blanchard's picture
5 new things to know about migraine headache tests and treatment.

Experts have released new guidelines for treating migraine headache. What should you do and what shouldn't you do if you suffer from migraines?


Commonly used treatment and testing for migraine headache can be risky say experts from the American Headache Society (AHS) who have released new guidelines for testing and treating migraines. Here are 5 new things to know about migraine headache.

Opioids not recommended for headache

Opioid pain medications are often a front-line treatment for migraine headache. But now doctors say they shouldn't be used because of the long-term risks associated with the drugs.

Dr. Elizabeth Loder, president of the American Headache Society said it isn't that the medications don't work, nor is it about cost.

Vicodin and Oxycontin for migraine headaches may work for a single migraine attack, but they can also lead to dependency or overdose that is a growing concern in the United States from prescription painkillers.

Additionally, the drugs can become ineffective, making headaches worse and more difficult to treat.

Loder said triptans that stop migraines once they start are the most effective treatment.. The drugs work by constricting the blood vessels. Biofeedback that helps change pain perception is also useful Loder said.

Over-the-counter drugs

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It's also important to minimize the use of over-the-counter drugs like Naproxen or Motrin that can harm the kidneys and stomach. The drugs, known as NSAIDs should be used no more than twice a week. If you suffer from migraine headache or other types of pain, Loder says there are better strategies for relief than reaching for a handful of Motrin.

Thanks to advances in research perceptions of migraine headache has changed over the years. Scientists now believe there is a genetic link that causes the condition that involves brain chemistry and nerve pathways.

The headache experts also recommend avoiding CT scans for non-emergency type headaches. "MRI can diagnose more conditions that may cause headache that CT scans can miss," Loder explains. She adds they are also safer and don't expose the patient to radiation because they use magnetic imaging techniques.

Also not recommended are brain scans for patients who meet criteria for migraine.

Migraine surgery

Lastly, surgery for migraine headaches is still unproven and not recommended. Loder said "We lack sufficient evidence to say the benefits of surgery outweigh the potential harms or that it is even helpful."

Surgery for migraine headache targets trigger points, but has not undergone rigorous testing and is also irreversible.

The new guidelines for diagnosing and treatment of migraine headache are published in the November issue of the journal Headache.