There are headaches and then there are headaches. If you’re one of the nearly 37 million Americans living with migraines, you know the difference. Regardless of whether it starts with nausea, light sensitivity or neck pain, a migraine can be debilitating, can linger for days and can lead to everything from medications to doctor visits. Even if you don’t suffer from migraines, roughly 14 million Americans live with chronic headaches that occur daily. Migraines and chronic headaches are the seventh-leading cause of disability worldwide, affecting people of any age and affecting women more than men. Migraines or headaches also are listed as one of the most frequent reasons people call in sick to work, simply because they’re unable to function normally from the pain. While there are various forms of treatments available for migraines, an overall cure remains elusive.
East Tennessee Medical Group neurologist Dr. Darel Butler says part of the reason curing migraines is difficult is because their origins aren’t easy to pin down. “Science hasn’t really been able to determine what causes migraines,” he said. “Some experts believe they’re a result of our serotonin levels that, once they get too low, can cause headaches. Still, no one really knows for sure. The important thing to know, however, is that they are treatable,” he explained.
“We start by looking at contributing factors,” Butler continued. “We want to know how frequently the patient experiences a migraine. How often the migraines occur can help determine how to treat them. We also try to look at patients’ lifestyle factors, such as how much sleep they’re getting each night, their general level of fatigue, how much caffeine they consume each day and their overall diet. We do this because, in some cases, there is something in the patient’s normal routine that is triggering their headaches. If we can help the patient isolate that and modify that behavior, we potentially can help them stop having migraines,” he said. “If not, we can turn to medicines for treatment,” he added.
“There are two ways to treat migraines and other headaches,” Butler said. “One is preventative therapy, which is necessary when a patient experiences two headache days each week. Abortive therapy, on the other hand, is when a patient is getting or taking treatment once the headache symptoms arise. Even if a patient is taking preventative therapies, headaches still may occur. Until they don’t occur, you’ll still experience some headaches that will require treatment,” he explained.
“If you’re experiencing migraines and your primary care physician has been unable to help you find the right treatment that is successful for you, it might be worth asking him or her for a referral to a neurologist,” Butler said. “With migraines and headaches, the only guarantee without treatment is more headaches, so the best thing to do is work with your doctor,” he added.
For more information about treatments for chronic headaches and migraines, or to make an appointment with Dr. Butler, call 865-984-3864.