Tabatha Cogar never had a migraine in her life – until this past April. One migraine turned into two in May, then more in June, until in July, she had one that lasted for three days and another one which came two days later.
With no family history of migraines and no other possible causes such as a tumor or cancer, doctors told Cogar a combination of things could trigger her migraines, from stress to barometric pressure.
According to WebMD, about 28 million people suffer from migraines. Classic signs include pain on one side, nausea, vomiting and sensitivity to light and sound. But in some cases, it can be difficult to distinguish if it’s a true migraine or just a headache.
“Sometimes the pain can be on both sides of the head and be associated with neck pain. Also, with sinus headaches some of the pathways the pain travels can be the same as a migraine. Probably one of the most important determining factors is the intensity – if it interferes with work or play, it’s most likely a migraine,” said Dr. James McDaniel, a neurologist with North Georgia Neurological in Lawrenceville.
Still not sure what really causes a migraine, McDaniel believes blood vessels are involved.
“Those vessels can go into spasms, which can, but rarely does, cause weakness on one side. Other factors could include changing hormone levels, stress, even birth control pills can affect the frequency of migraines. We’re just not exactly sure of a migraine’s origin,” said McDaniel.
Doctors will usually order a CAT scan or MRI to rule out structural lesions that could be causing the pain. If the results come back negative, then they begin treating the migraine. Treatment usually begins with prescribed or over-the-counter medicines that can be taken as needed.
Cogar started out taking Imitrex but soon realized it wasn’t working.
“After I went to a neurologist in October, I was put on Depakote, which I take every night before I go to bed. It hasn’t stopped my migraines, but it has made them not as bad and allowed me to go to work,” said Cogar.
She keeps a migraine journal, detailing what medicine she takes, the level of pain and how long it takes the medicine to work since the doctor also gave her medicines to take at the onset of a migraine.
Typically, migraines occur most frequently among people in their teens or 20s and usually end in the 40s and are more common in women than in men, but doctors are discovering more and more children are getting migraines.
For now, Cogar’s still seeing a neurologist and may have to be on a prescription the rest of her life. But as medicine advances and doctors discover more treatment options, what used to be a life-altering occurrence cured only by sleep might very well be downgraded to headache status.