Tag "aura"

Triptans, such as Imitrex or sumatriptan and similar drugs are “designer” drugs which were developed to specifically treat migraine headaches. They are highly effective and, after more than 20 years on the market, proven safe. Four out of the seven drugs in this category (Imitrex, Maxalt, Zomig, Amerge) are available in a generic form, which significantly lowers their cost, which was one of the obstacles for their widespread use. So, it would appear that now there is no reason for doctors not to prescribe triptans to migraine sufferers.

In 1998, emergency department doctors gave more than half of the patients suffering from migraine headaches opioids (narcotics) to relieve pain and, according to a new study, 12 years later, this hasn’t changed.

Despite the fact that triptans are widely considered to be the best drugs for acute migraine, the use of these drugs in the emergency department has remained at 10%, according to a study led by Benjamin Friedman, an emergency medicine doctor at the Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx.

In 1998, about 51% of patients presenting with migraine at the emergency department were treated with an injection of a narcotic and in 2010, narcotics were given to 53% of the patients.

Other than narcotics (opioids) emergency department doctors often give injections of an NSAID (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug) Toradol (ketorolac) or a nausea drug, such as Reglan (metoclopramide). These two drugs are more effective (especially if given together) and have fewer potential side effects than narcotics. They also do not cause addiction and rebound (medication overuse) headaches, which narcotics do.

Dr. Friedman and his colleagues looked at the national data for 2010 and found that there were 1.2 million visits to the emergency departments for the treatment of migraine. Migraine was the 5th most common reason people come to the emergency room.

They also discovered that people who were given a triptan in the emergency department had an average length of stay in the ER of 90 minutes, while those given Dilaudid (hydromorphone) – the most popular narcotic, stayed in the ER for an average of 178 minutes.

Opioids should be used only occasionally – when triptans, ketorolac, and metoclopramide are ineffective or are contraindicated. This should be the case in maybe 5% of these patients, according to Dr. Friedman

One possible reason why ER doctors do not follow recommended treatments and use narcotics instead, is that they do not recognize a severe headache as migraine and misdiagnose it as sinus, tension-type or just as a “severe headache”. Many doctors still believe that migraine has to be a one-sided headache, or a visual aura must precede a migraine, or that the pain has to be throbbing. It is well established that none of these features are required for the diagnosis of migraine.

Another possible reason for the widespread use of opioid drugs in the ER is that doctors are very accustomed to using them, while triptans may be unfamiliar and require thinking about potential contraindications, what dose to give, what side effects to expect, etc.

In summary, if you or someone you know has to go to an ER with a severe migraine, ask for injectable sumatriptan (which you should have at home to avoid such visits to the ER) or ketorolac.

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White matter lesions that often seen on MRI scans of adult migraine sufferers were also found in children. A study by Washington University researchers inn St. Louis examined MRI scans of 926 children 2 to 17 years of age (mean age was 12.4 and 60% were girls) who were diagnosed with migraine headaches. They found white matter lesions (WMLs) in about 4% or 39 of these children, which is not much higher than in kids without migraines. Just like in the adults, these WMLs were slightly more common in kids with migraine with aura. None of these lesions were big enough to be called a mini-stroke or an infarct. There was no correlation between the number of lesions and the frequency or the duration of migraines. In conclusion, WMLs in children with migraines do not appear to be caused by migraines and are most likely benign in origin. The origin, however remains unknown, which often causes anxiety in parents of these children.

Unlike in children, adults with migraines and especially those with migraines with aura, are much more likely to have WMLs than adults without migraines. But even in adults, these appear to be benign as I mentioned in my previous post.

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Transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) seems to be effective for the treatment of migraines with aura. “Spring TMS” device which delivers a jolt of such stimulation has been on the market in Europe since 2011. The American company that manufactures this device, eNeura Therapeutics hopes to obtain approval to sell it in the US in the near future. The approval of this device in Europe was based on a multi-center study results of which were published in Lancet Neurology. Unfortunately, the device is fairly bulky and needs to be carried around constantly because it seems to work only if used during the aura phase of the migraine. Auras usually begin unpredictably and last 20-60 minutes. Migraine with aura affects only 15-20% of all migraine sufferers, further limiting the potential market for this device.

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Aspirin is by far the most effective drug for the prevention of migraine with aura, according to Italian researchers from Turin. They reported on 194 consecutive patients who had migraine with aura and who were placed on a prophylactic medication. Ninety of these patients were on 300 mg of aspirin daily and the rest were given propranolol (Inderal), topiramate (Topamax), and other daily medications. At the end of 32 weeks of observation 86% of those on aspirin had at least a 50% reduction in the frequency of attacks of migraine with aura compared with their baseline frequency, while 41% had even better results – at least a 75% reduction. In contrast, only 46% of patients on other drugs had a 50% improvement in frequency. The probability of success with aspirin was six times greater than with any other prophylactic medication, according to the lead author, Dr. Lidia Savi.
Aspirin is not only effective for the prevention of migraines with aura but also for acute therapy of migraine attacks. In previous posts I mentioned that a rigorous analysis of large numbers of patients showed that 1,000 mg of aspirin is better than 500 mg of naproxen (2 tablets of Aleve) and that 1,000 mg of aspirin was as good as 100 mg of sumatriptan (Imitrex) with fewer side effects.
Many health benefits of aspirin, which was originally derived from the willow bark, are becoming widely known. In addition to helping prevent heart attacks and strokes, aspirin has cancer-fighting properties. You may want to read a very interesting article about aspirin, The 2,000-Year-Old Wonder Drug, just published in the New York Times.
Aspirin formula

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A recent study by Dr. Bigal and his colleagues just published in Neurology compared more than 6,000 migraine sufferers with over 5,000 matched control subjects without migraines.   They discovered that people with migraine with aura and to a lesser extent those with migraine without aura are significantly more likely to have strokes, heart attacks, hypertension, poor circulation, diabetes, and high cholesterol.  This clearly does not mean that migraine causes all these diseases, but only that if you have one you are more likely to have the other.  It is important to recognize this association in migraine sufferers in order to regularly screen them for these conditions.  We know that controlling diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol can prevent strokes, heart attacks and poor circulation in extremities.  We also recommend that women who have migraine with aura should not take estrogen-based oral contraceptives or hormone replacement therapy since estrogen in these women also increases the risk of strokes.  All migraine suffererss (and everyone else) should not smoke and exercise regularly, which also reduces the risk of the conditions mentioned above.

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Some migraine patients are more disturbed and disabled by migraine aura symptoms than by the headache itself.  Some people do not even have pain but only auras.  In the majority the aura is visual and consists of squiggly lines, flashing lights, distorted vision, or partial loss of vision on one side of each eye.  Less often people experience numbness of one side of the body, dizziness, or vertigo.  These symptoms are sometimes more difficult to treat than the pain.  Anecdotal reports suggest that a blood pressure drug belonging to the family of calcium channel blockers can help.  Another medication that has been reported to be effective (also only in case series and not double-blind trials) is an epilepsy drug, lamotrigine (Lamictal).  The effective dose of lamotrigine varies from 100 to 500 mg day, while verapamil is usually effective at 12-240 mg, although in some patients only much higher doses are effective.

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High homocysteine levels increase the risk of cardiovascular disease (strokes and heart attacks) and can be reduced by folic acid and vitamin B12 (cyanocobalamine).   A study by Spanish doctors published in Headache found elevated homocysteine levels in patients who have migraines with aura.  Patients who have migraine with aura are known to have increased risk of cardiovascular disease and it is possible that elevated homocysteine levels are at least in part responsible for this risk.  I routinely check homocysteine, vitamin B12 and folic acid levels in all of my patients.  One caveat is that vitamin B12 levels are not very reliable – you may have a normal level, but still be deficient.  While laboratories consider a level of over 200 to be normal, clinical deficiency is often present at levels below 400.  A single case report has been published of a severe deficiency with neurological symptoms and a vitamin B12 level of over 700.  This patient lacked the ability to transport vitamin B12 from his blood into the cells.  Injections of high doses of vitamin B12 corrected the problem.  Oral magnesium supplementation is not as effective as injections because vitamin B12 is poorly absorbed in the stomach.   Other ways to get vitamin B12 is by taking it sublingually (under your tongue) or by a nasal spray (it requires a prescription and is fairly expensive).  Many of my patients a willing to self-inject vitamin B12, which they do anywhere fro once a week to once a month.   Vegetarians are more likely to be deficient since meat (and liver) are the main sources of vitamin B12.  Smokers are also at a high risk because cyanide in smoke binds to vitamin B12.

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Medications used for the preventive treatment of migraine headaches can cause weight loss, but more often cause weight gain.  An interesting study by Dr. Bigal and his colleagues, just published in Cephalalgia looked at this effect of drugs in 331 patients.  They found that 16% of them gained weight (5% or more of their baseline weight) and 17% lost weight.  The various treatments given to these patients were equally effective in both groups.  However, not surprisingly, those who gained weight had elevation of their cholesterol, blood glucose, blood pressure and pulse.  Patients who have migraine headaches with aura (about 15-20% of migraine sufferers) already have an increased risk of strokes, so adding additional risk factors for both strokes and heart attacks should be especially avoided in this group.  The only preventive migraine drug which consistently lowers weight in many patients is topiramate (Topamax).  This drug is now available in a generic form, making it much less expensive.  While topiramate does lower weight and helps prevent migraine headaches only half of the patients stay on it.  For the other half it causes unpleasant side effects (memory impairment and other) or it does not work.

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