18% of women and 6% of men in the U.S. suffer from migraine headaches. It's a disabling disorder that quickly becomes a chronic problem when patients turn to pain medication daily to treat the problem.
That's according to researchers at the Headache Center at Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia, who say they believe chronic patients may be training themselves to have regular headaches.
"Patients who have frequent attacks, who overuse the medication for acute treatment, wind up with daily headaches, and the strategy is to then go to not treating the attack when you get it, but to prevent the attack from occurring," says Dr. Stephen Silberstein, neurologist.
So, instead of treating the pain, doctors there are using a new preventive tactic, prescribing anti-epileptic drugs, medications that quiet down the nervous system, before the migraine comes. Another new type of treatment involves injection with botulinum toxin, which they say also works by relaxing muscles instead of later treating the pain.
"I didn't have to lie in bed all the time with the shades drawn, and with the pillow over my head. I had finally found a preventative treatment that allowed me to live again," says Catherine Skinner, migraine patient.
The Headache Center at Jefferson says the most common migraine trigger in women is menstruation, due to falling estrogen levels. But other triggers include too much or too little sleep, stress, a blow to the head, and certain foods can trigger migraines.