Migraines: Complexity and Advancements in Treatment

Woman with migraine holding head

June is Migraine Awareness Month, an annual observance dedicated to raising awareness about migraines, dispelling misconceptions, and supporting individuals suffering from this debilitating condition (IHS, 2018).

Migraines are a prevalent and highly complex neurological disorder affecting millions worldwide (Goadsby et al., 2017). The debilitating nature of migraines can significantly impact an individual’s quality of life, making it crucial for patients and healthcare professionals to comprehensively understand the condition (Goadsby et al., 2017; Dodick, 2018).

While there is no known cure for migraines, treatments such as medications, lifestyle changes, and alternative therapies may help reduce their frequency and severity (Dodick, 2018).

The rise of social media platforms like TikTok has also contributed to the dissemination of healthcare information in unique ways. In a recent blog post titled “The Rise of TikTok Docs,” we explore how healthcare professionals are leveraging the platform to share educational content and raise awareness about various medical conditions, including migraines.

Types of Migraines

Migraines can manifest in various forms, each presenting its unique characteristics and symptoms (IHS, 2018):

Migraine with aura

This type of migraine is characterized by visual disturbances, such as flashing lights or blind spots, preceding the onset of a headache. Aura symptoms include sensory disorders, language difficulties, and motor weakness.

Migraine without aura

Unlike migraines with aura, this type does not involve specific warning signs. Individuals with migraines without aura typically experience moderate to severe headaches lasting for hours or even days.

Chronic migraine

Chronic migraines are defined as experiencing headaches on 15 or more days per month, with at least eight of those days being migraines, for three months or longer. Due to its frequent occurrence, this subtype poses additional challenges for both patients and healthcare providers.

Vestibular migraine

Vestibular migraines, a subtype of migraines, present with distinct symptoms, including dizziness, vertigo, and balance issues. These migraines can occur with or without accompanying headaches, complicating their diagnosis and treatment.

In addition to the primary symptoms, individuals with vestibular migraines may experience sensitivity to motion, visual disturbances, and difficulty concentrating (Lempert et al., 2012). The episodes of dizziness and vertigo can be prolonged and debilitating, significantly impacting the quality of life for those affected.

Treatment approaches for vestibular migraines may involve a combination of preventive medications, lifestyle modifications, and symptomatic management to alleviate vestibular symptoms and associated headaches (Lempert et al., 2012; Chen et al., 2019). In addition, vestibular rehabilitation therapy, which focuses on exercises and techniques to improve balance and reduce dizziness, can also benefit some individuals (Chen et al., 2019).

Hemiplegic migraine

Hemiplegic migraines are rare and often come with temporary paralysis or weakness on one side of the body, along with other symptoms such as vision disturbances and difficulty speaking.

Retinal migraine

Retinal migraines cause temporary vision loss or blindness in one eye, usually lasting less than an hour. Although these episodes can be alarming, they tend to resolve without causing permanent visual impairment.

Male hiking with migraine holding head

Migraine Symptoms and Diagnosis

Common symptoms of migraines include severe headaches, sensitivity to light and sound, nausea, and vomiting. However, it is essential to note that migraines can present differently in each individual, making diagnosis challenging. 

Distinguishing migraines from other conditions is crucial for proper treatment. Differential diagnosis may involve ruling out other primary headache disorders, sinus headaches, and secondary headaches caused by underlying conditions.

Migraine Treatment

Acute Migraine Treatment Options:

Acute migraine treatment aims to relieve the pain and associated symptoms during a migraine attack (Dodick, 2018). Standard acute treatment options include:

  1. Migraine Medications: Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs), triptans, and ergotamines are standard acute treatment options (Dodick, 2018). Triptans are another class of medications specifically designed to target migraines by constricting blood vessels and reducing inflammation. Although less commonly used due to side effects, Ergotamines can be effective for some individuals.
  2. Non-pharmaceutical migraine treatment options: Applying ice packs or cold compresses to the affected area, finding a quiet and dark environment to rest, and ensuring adequate hydration can help alleviate symptoms during a migraine attack.

Preventative Treatment Options:

For individuals with frequent or severe migraines, preventative treatment options aim to reduce the frequency and intensity of attacks. These options include:

  1. Medications: Beta-blockers, antidepressants, and anti-epileptic medications are commonly prescribed for preventative treatment. Beta-blockers, such as propranolol, help regulate blood pressure and reduce migraines’ frequency. Antidepressants, such as amitriptyline, can help manage the chemical imbalances associated with migraines. Anti-epileptic medications, like topiramate, have effectively reduced the frequency of migraines.
  2. Lifestyle changes: Adopting a healthy lifestyle, including regular exercise, stress reduction techniques, maintaining a balanced diet, and ensuring adequate sleep, can play a significant role in managing migraines. Identifying and avoiding trigger factors like certain foods, environmental stimuli, or hormonal changes can also contribute to prevention.

Current Migraine Research

Continued research into migraines has provided valuable insights into the condition, paving the way for new treatment options. Recent advancements include:

  1. Genetic links to migraines: Research has identified specific genes associated with migraines, shedding light on the genetic factors contributing to the condition. This knowledge opens up possibilities for targeted therapies and personalized treatment approaches.
  2. Role of inflammation in migraines: Inflammation has been implicated in migraine pathogenesis. Understanding the inflammatory processes involved in migraines may lead to developing new anti-inflammatory drugs tailored for migraine treatment.
  3. New treatment options: Ongoing research explores innovative treatments such as neuromodulation techniques, monoclonal antibodies targeting calcitonin gene-related peptide (CGRP), and non-invasive brain stimulation. These advancements offer hope for more effective and targeted therapies in the future.

Understanding the complexity of migraines and advancements in treatment, individuals with migraines and healthcare professionals can work together to improve management strategies and enhance the quality of life for those affected by this neurological disorder. 

Additionally, advancements in drug delivery systems, such as nasal sprays and injectables, have improved convenience and efficacy for migraine sufferers. The evolving pharmaceutical industry plays a vital role in expanding treatment options and improving the lives of individuals affected by migraines.

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  1. Goadsby, P. J., Holland, P. R., Martins-Oliveira, M., Hoffmann, J., Schankin, C., & Akerman, S. (2017). Pathophysiology of migraine: A disorder of sensory processing. Physiological Reviews, 97(2), 553-622.
  2. Dodick, D. W. (2018). Migraine. Lancet, 391(10127), 1315-1330.
  3. International Headache Society. (2018). The International Classification of Headache Disorders, 3rd edition. Cephalalgia, 38(1), 1-211.
  4. Lempert, T., Olesen, J., Furman, J., Waterston, J., Seemungal, B., Carey, J., … & Bisdorff, A. (2012). Vestibular migraine: Diagnostic criteria. Journal of Vestibular Research, 22(4), 167-172.
  5. Chen, B., Friedman, D. I., & Patel, A. D. (2019). Vestibular migraine. Neurologic Clinics, 37(4), 715-727.