Cyclic vomiting syndrome (CVS) is usually seen in children. The attacks of vomiting often stop as the child gets older, but then they usually go on to develop migraine headaches. A recent report in Headache describes three adults with CVS. The article also mentions a previous report which described another 17 adults with this syndrome.

CVS typically consists of recurrent stereotypical attacks of incapacitating nausea and vomiting, separated by symptom-free periods. Supporting evidence that helps diagnose this condition include personal or family history of migraine and other symptoms, such as headaches, motion sickness, and sensitivity to light.

Just like in children, CVS in adults is a diagnosis of exclusion, meaning that other causes of vomiting must be considered and ruled out. I mentioned in a previous post that one out of three children with CVS turned out to have another medical problem rather than migraine.

CVS in adults seems to respond well to an injection of sumatriptan (Imitrex). This allows for a quick relief of symptoms and makes this debilitating condition very manageable. Besides Imitrex injections, Zomig (zolmitriptan) nasal spray can sometimes be effective as well.

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Placebo effect is a well-documented phenomenon, which is particularly pronounced when treating migraine headaches. Intravenous (IV) infusion of saline water is a placebo commonly used in studies where placebo is compared to a medication also given IV.

It is baffling why a group of Canadian physicians decided to test the effect of (IV) fluids on migraines in children and adolescents seen in an emergency room (the study was just published in Headache). They compared a group of children who were told that they will get only IV fluids with another group who was told that they might also get a medication with the IV fluids. The second group actually watched a nurse add something to the bag of IV fluid, but the children were not told that it was just more of the saline water. The researchers thought that the expectation of getting a medicine will help relieve their migraine headache. In fact neither group, the one who received IV fluids without expecting any medicine and the group who thought that they may be getting medicine had much relief. Strangely, the doctors concluded that additional studies using larger volumes of IV fluids are warranted. As if there is a chance that giving more fluids will stop a severe migraine. Sadly, intravenous fluids are often used in emergency rooms as a treatment for migraines in adults and children and we did not need this study to show that it is an ineffective approach. Doing more such studies seems unethical. Imagine a parent getting up in the middle of the night, taking a sick child to an emergency room where the child receives only intravenous fluids and is sent home with the child still in pain.

Emergency rooms, even in the medical mecca of New York City, are notorious for using ineffective treatments for migraine headaches. If not intravenous fluids, patients often get narcotic (opioid) pain killers, tranquilizers, or antihistamines, such as Benadryl. Some patients are just given a tablet of ibuprofen and are sent home after waiting for hours to be seen and treated. Here is a previous post on what to ask for if you end up in an emergency room with a severe migraine. Obviously, some doctors will not comply with your request, but it is worth asking.

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Considering that meditation can literally change your brain, it is not at all surprising that it can also prevent migraine headaches. A study by doctors at Wake Forest School of Medicine and Harvard Medical School published in the journal Headache confirmed that meditation can prevent migraine headaches.

I’ve written before about studies showing that meditation reduces negative perception of pain and that even three daily 20-minute meditation sessions reduce pain.

Stress is one of the most common triggers for migraine headaches. Many studies of various mind/body interventions have been shown to be helpful for migraine. The researchers in the latest study used a standardized 8-week mindfulness-based stress reduction program that teaches mindfulness meditation and yoga. This approach has been shown to be effective for chronic pain syndromes, but this was the first time it was tested for migraines.

The study included 9 adults who received their usual care and 10 who were enrolled in the meditation program. The program consisted of 8 weekly 2-hour sessions, plus one mindfulness retreat day (6 hours) led by a trained instructor.

All 10 patients completed the program. The program participants had on average 1.4 fewer migraines per month. The reduction ranged from 3.5 to 1.0 migraines, while in the control group the improvement ranged from 1.2 to 0 migraines per month. Headaches were less severe and shorter in those who meditated compared to those who did not. Disability also improved (measured by Migraine Disability Assessment and Headache Impact Test-6) in the active group, compared to controls.

The authors concluded that mindfulness-based stress reduction is safe and feasible for adults with migraines. Although the study included a small number of patients this intervention had a beneficial effect on headache duration, disability, self-efficacy, and mindfulness. The authors feel that there is a clear need for studies with larger numbers of patients. I, on the other hand, feel that every patient with migraines should try meditation even before larger studies are completed. If meditation can increase the thickness of your brain and prevent age-related brain atrophy, it is very likely to have many other health benefits, including prevention of migraine headaches.

How do you start meditating? Meditation classes are widely available and you can start by reading a book or taking an on-line course. I can recommend a book by BH Gunaratana, Mindfulness in Plain English and a website, www.headspace.com, but there are many other good resources available.

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Germany was just voted world’s favorite country, according to a report in the USA Today. It also may be the most advanced country in the area of medical rehabilitation. I just came back from Germany where I was invited to give lectures at two prominent clinics. Doctors from both institutions had visited our New York Headache Center to learn about our approach to the treatment of migraines and to learn Botox injection techniques.

My first stop was at the Berolina Klinik, a 280-bed rehabilitation hospital located 80 miles west of Hanover. This hospital provides rehabilitation for a variety of conditions, including orthopedic problems, depression, and chronic headaches. Patients are admitted for a period of 4 to 5 weeks. Treatments available at this institution include physical therapy, biofeedback, individual and group psychotherapy, art therapy, and other. All patient rooms are private. There is a 25-meter (82 feet) swimming pool, gym, inviting dining rooms (with excellent food – I sampled it), green lawns with reclining chairs, and all of it immaculately clean and well-maintained. Staying in such a facility for 4 to 5 weeks is a luxury not available to most Americans. The hospital welcomes patients from abroad and the cost is surprisingly low – about $9,000 for a month of stay, which is less than a third of the cost in the US. They will even pick you up at the Frankfurt airport (third busiest in Europe), which is only 3 hours’ drive. Most of the German patients treated at the Berolina Klinik are covered by insurance, mostly by the German pension fund. The pension fund annually evaluates every facility using strict outcome measures, including the percentage of patients employed two years after being treated at a rehabilitation facility. Berolina Klinik consistently rates among the top German rehabilitation clinics. Dr. Zoltan Medgyessy is the main headache specialist at the clinic and is considered to be one of the leading headache experts in Germany.

The second stop was in Kiel at one of the best German headache and pain clinics, Schmerzklinik Kiel, which is directed by Dr. Hartmut Göbel. This clinic is also an in-patient facility (unlike in the US, where the word clinic implies an office setting). Approximately 70% of patients treated at the Schmerzklinik suffer from headaches and 30% from chronic pain. The clinic is housed in a beautiful building located on the Kiel fjord. Dr. Göbel is one of the top headache researchers and he and I have collaborated on the study of butterbur for the treatment of migraines, which was published in 2004. On this trip I had the honor of speaking in Dr. Göbel’s Master Class – an annual training course for German headache specialists. While I would refer patients who need longer-term rehabilitation (or detox from opioid and other headache drugs) to the Berolina Klinik, Schmerzklinik is where I refer European patients with complicated headache problems and those needing shorter hospital stays.

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A new report by Drs. Gfrerer, Maman and their colleagues at the Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston entitled Non-Endoscopic Deactivation of Nerve Triggers in Migraine Headache Patients: Surgical Technique and Outcomes was recently published in the journal Plastic & Reconstructive Surgery. Surgery for refractory migraine headaches was developed by Dr. Bahman Guyuron and others and was reported to benefit between 68 and 95% patients. This surgery involves cutting or freeing up nerves in the scalp that appear to be responsible for triggering migraines. Some surgeons use a laparascopic technique, which involves making only a few small incisions while others do this surgery through conventional incisions. The authors of this new study argue that endoscopic techniques may not be appropriate in many cases since some surgeons have little experience or limited access to the endoscope and in some patients this technique is not practical because the nerves could run in an unusual pattern, which would make them hard to find through a small incision.

This study involved 43 consecutive procedures in 35 patients. All patients completed questionnaires before and 12 months after surgery. The overall positive response rate was 91%. Total elimination of migraine headaches was reported in 51%, greater than 80% resolution of symptoms in 21%, and 28% had resolution between 50-80%. No improvement was reported after 9% of procedures. There were no major adverse events.

The authors concluded that non-endoscopic surgery was safe and effective treatment in select migraine headache patients.

Most headache experts agree that until proven effective in large controlled studies, surgery should be done only as a part of such a large controlled trial. Just like with previous studies of surgery for migraines, this was a small and not a rigorously controlled trial. Placebo response to surgical procedures is usually very high, however it is rarely 90% and the effect rarely lasts 12 months, as it did in this study. Considering these facts, as well as that this study was done at a reputable institution and that this group consisted of refractory patients (those who did not respond to conventional therapy, including Botox), surgery may in fact offer some real benefits to a small group of patients. We need larger and better controlled trials to figure out if that is indeed the case and what type of patients are the best candidates for surgery.

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Fish oil, or rather omega-3 fatty acids, seem to reduce the risk of Lou Gehrig disease or ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis). An article in JAMA Neurology by Dr. Fitzgerald and her colleagues analyzed 1,002,082 participants in 5 different large-scale studies. A total of 995 ALS cases were documented. A greater omega-3 intake was associated with a reduced risk for ALS. Consumption of both linolenic acid and marine (fish oil-derived) omega-3s contributed to this inverse association. The researchers concluded that consumption of foods high in omega-3s may help prevent or delay the onset of ALS.

Omega-3s may also relieve migraine headaches, help cope better with stress, prevent damage to nerve endings by chemotherapy, prevent mental decline, and provide other benefits.

I usually recommend (and take it myself) Omax3 brand, which is very pure and concentrated.

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Cluster headaches usually occur once or twice a year for a period lasting from a few weeks to a few months. During those periods, they occur daily or more than once a day. Interestingly, these episodes of cluster headaches tend to occur at the same time of year in many patients, but not always at the same time of year. Looking at our data, we have found that in some years many cluster patients developed their attacks in August, another year, in November, and this year, it has been September – October. This year, we are also seeing many patients whose cluster headaches are not responding to usual treatments.

It does not appear that barometric pressure or allergies are responsible for triggering cluster headaches. One unsubstantiated theory is that the solar activity is responsible for bringing on cluster headaches. This report in the Wall Street Journal indicates that we are currently going through a period of an unusually intense solar activity. Perhaps this is why some of our cluster patients are having unusually severe headaches.

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The first time I heard of the potential benefit of stem cells for migraine headaches was last year from one of my patients. This 55-year-old woman had been having some improvement from intravenous magnesium and nerve blocks, while Botox was ineffective. However, she reported a dramatic improvement in her headaches after receiving an intravenous infusion of stem cells in Panama. The stem cells were obtained from a donated umbilical cord.

Stem cell research has been controversial because most of the early research used stem cells obtained from an aborted fetus. Since then, stem cells have been obtained from the bone marrow, umbilical cord, placenta, and artificial fertilization. Another rich source of stem cells is body’s fat tissue. Most of the stem cell procedures are not yet approved in the US. The main concern is that when you obtain stem cells from another person’s umbilical cord or placenta, there is a risk of transmitting an infection. There are relatively few stem cells in the bone marrow, placenta or the umbilical cord, which means that after isolating them, they need to be grown in a petri dish. This process involves adding various chemicals, which may not be safe, according to the FDA.

A group of doctors in Australia recently reported relief of migraines using stem cells from patients’ own fat. These doctors did not grow these cells, but infused them intravenously right after separating them from fat. The infused cells were not only stem cells, but so called stromal vascular fraction, which also includes cells that surround blood vessels. These four patients were given stem cell treatment for osteoarthritis and not migraines, but they noticed that their migraines and tension-type headaches improved.

Four women with long histories of chronic migraine or chronic tension-type headaches were given an infusion of cells isolated from fat, which was obtained by liposuction. Two of the four patients, aged 40 and 36 years, stopped having migraines after 1 month, for a period of 12 to 18 months. The third patient, aged 43 years, had a significant decrease in the frequency and severity of migraines with only seven migraines over 18 months. The fourth patient, aged 44 years, obtained a temporary decrease for a period of a month and was retreated 18 months later and was still free of migraines at the time the report was submitted one month later.

This case series is the first published evidence of the possible efficacy of stromal vascular fraction in the treatment of migraine and tension-type headaches.

It is not very surprising that stem cells can improve migraine headaches because stem cells are tested as a treatment for a variety of inflammatory diseases, such as multiple sclerosis, arthritis, and colitis. Inflammation is proven to be present during a migraine attack and this inflammation may attract stem cells. Many experts believe that stem cells may work for MS or other neurological disorders not by becoming brain cells, but by stimulating body’s own repair mechanisms.

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Beta blockers (Inderal or propranolol and similar drugs) are used for the preventive treatment of migraine headaches. Over the years, a few patients have told me that they take a beta blocker only when they have an attack of migraine with very good results. A report published in Missouri Medicine describes seven patients whose acute migraine headache went away with eye drops containing a beta blocker. These eye drops are used for the treatment of glaucoma. The authors argue that having medicine go into the eye allows it to get absorbed quickly into the blood stream. This is certainly true, but my first thought was that there is too little medicine in eye drops to produce an effect outside the eye. However, beta blocker eye drops can worsen asthma, lower the blood pressure and slow the heart rate, suggesting that the amount of medicine in eye drops is sufficient to cause effects beyond the eye. Oral beta blockers used daily for the preventive treatment of migraines are also contraindicated in those medical conditions. Considering that eye drops are probably safer than many oral medications used to treat an acute migraine attack and that they most likely work faster, this treatment is worth trying.

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Parkinson’s disease (PD), parkinsonian symptoms, and restless leg syndrome (RLS) are more common in people who in middle age suffered from migraines with aura. Those suffering from migraine without aura in their midlife had increased risk of having symptoms of Parkinson’s and RLS, but not PD. These are the findings of a large study of residents of Reykjavik, Iceland who were born between 1907 and 1935. These residents had been followed since 1967. Headaches were classified based on symptoms assessed in middle age. From 2002 to 2006, 5,764 participants were reexamined to assess symptoms of parkinsonism, diagnosis of PD, family history of PD, and RLS.

People who suffered from migraines, particularly migraine with aura, were in later life more likely than others to report parkinsonian symptoms and diagnosed to have PD. Women with migraine with aura were more likely than others to have a parent or sibling with PD. Late-life RLS was increased in those with headaches generally.

The authors concluded that there may be a common vulnerability to, or consequences of, migraine and multiple indicators of parkinsonism.

There are no proven ways to prevent PD, but eating more fruits and vegetables, high-fiber foods, fish, and omega-3 rich oils (or taking an omega-3 supplement, such as Omax3) and avoiding red meat and dairy may have some protective effect against PD.

Intensive research into the causes and treatment of Parkinson’s disease, supported by Michael J. Fox and Sergey Brin of Google among others, should lead to true breakthroughs in the next few years.

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