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Migraine Misery

National Headache Awareness Week draws attention to debilitating pain

SUNDAY, June 3, 2001 (HealthDayNews) -- More than half of the 28 million Americans who suffer from migraines have never been properly diagnosed, says the National Headache Foundation (NHF).

That's why the foundation's theme for National Headache Awareness Week, June 3-9, is, "Headaches? Think Migraine."

Too often, what you may think is a stress, sinus or tension headache could actually be a migraine.

"If you have headaches that impact your life and they prevent you from doing your usual activities, that you miss out on family functions, that you find that you're taking an over-the-counter medication on a daily basis -- you really need to see a health-care provider to be diagnosed properly so that you can be treated appropriately," says Suzanne E. Simons, NHF executive director.

To help you recognize whether you may suffer from migraines, the NHF has a quick quiz: Do you ever get a throbbing, one-sided headache? Do you feel sick or vomit when you have a headache? Is your headache preventing you from performing your regular activities?

If you answer "yes" to any of these questions, you may be suffering from a migraine headache.

The impact of migraines extends beyond the pain they inflict. Simons notes that American migraine sufferers lose more than 157 million workdays each year. Estimates of the resulting losses to business and industry range from $5.6 billion to $17.2 billion.

Some people with migraines don't even bother to see their doctor because they don't think anything can be done for them, Simons says.

"There are migraine-specific medications available [triptans, for example], and it's important that people understand that, and that they talk to their health-care provider about whether those types of medications would be appropriate for them," she says.

"If this was a disease for which there were no treatments, that would be a tragedy in and of itself. But I think the bigger tragedy is that we do have great medications out there, and people aren't getting them," she adds.

If you've gone to your doctor about your migraines and haven't been satisfied, Simons urges you to make an appointment to go back and stress how the migraines are interrupting your life. Be fully prepared with detailed information about your migraines.

That information should include how often the headaches occur, how long they last, their location, the type of pain, any factors that may trigger them, or anything that may worsen or provide relief during an attack. You also should provide details on any prescription, over-the-counter or herbal products you may be taking or have tried.

You have to be a self-advocate, Simons says. "The bottom line is that migraine is a biological disease and, as such, it should be treated as a biological disease."

John Giglio, executive director of the American Pain Foundation (APF), agrees that people with migraines or other forms of chronic pain often don't know how to talk with their doctor.

"I think a lot of patients don't even know how to get that conversation started, regardless of the type of pain," he says.

A migraine headache is one of several types of chronic pain that haven't been taken seriously enough by some medical professionals over the years, Giglio says. But the situation with migraines has improved recently as researchers provide a better understanding of the disease and a wider range of treatments, he adds.

What To Do

For more HealthScout stories on migraine and other headaches, click here.

For more information about migraines and all kinds of headaches, go to the National Headache Foundation, or the American Pain Foundation.

To find out what clinical trials are being done on chronic pain, check Veritas Medicine.

SOURCES: Interviews with Suzanne E. Simons, M.S., M.C., executive director, National Headache Foundation, Chicago, Ill.; John Giglio, J.D., executive director, American Pain Foundation, Baltimore, Md.
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