Peggy’s Story: Identifying migraine triggers can lead to relief

PeggyPeggy Braddock is a life-long migraine sufferer. Earlier in her life, she dealt with debilitating headaches two or three times a month, each lasting several days.

The Loveland mother and bank employee has been able to bring her migraines under control thanks to a 20-year patient relationship with Vincent Martin, MD, an internist and headache expert at West Chester Hospital.

Under Dr. Martin’s care, Peggy discovered her migraines were triggered by hormonal changes surrounding menstruation and, later in life, by changes in weather and barometric pressure. While these are two of the most common types of triggers, the medical profession says that no “typical” patient exists when it comes to migraines and other chronic headaches.

Migraines often run in families. Even in Peggy’s family the experience has been different for family members. “My mother’s headaches were preceded by auras (feelings and symptoms one notices shortly before a headache begins). My daughter’s migraines have been helped through acupuncture treatments. I tried it, but it didn’t work for me.”

In its most simple definition, a migraine is a headache with throbbing pain usually more intense on one side of the head, often severe enough to cause nausea, and lasting from hours to days. Studies show 12 percent of the population experiences migraines, and they are three times more common in women than men. The exact mechanisms or origins of migraines are not known.

“It is thought to be a neurovascular disorder. There have been a number of genetic mutations that have been found with migraines,” Dr. Martin says. “Basically, hyperactivity in nerve cells causes the migraine and they are hyper-responsive to environmental changes. Those can range from weather to hormones, the wrong food, and exposure to chemicals or smells. People do detect changes in barometric pressure and often experience a headache shortly before a storm, for example.”

When it comes to migraine treatment, Dr. Martin works with patients to understand triggers. Later in life, after discovering hormonal changes were an issue, Peggy had a hysterectomy, which greatly relieved her suffering.

For others, triggers can be smells, allergies, pets or a myriad of subtle environmental events. The most common treatment for those who don’t get relief from simple analgesics such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen, remains the specific medications developed in the 1990s, such as triptans or ergotamines. Dr. Martin warns that overmedication can sometimes be a problem for some people. Indeed, Braddock cannot take analgesics any more because of stomach damage, caused by these medications.

Peggy, who has participated in three different studies over the years, arranged by her doctor, has learned plenty about living with migraines. Her advice to fellow sufferers: “Know your triggers and try every treatment possible, but most of all, take care of yourself. Eat healthy foods, eat regularly and keep your blood sugar at a consistent level. Get plenty of sleep and drink a lot of water.”

For Peggy, her miracle drug has been Botox. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the anti-wrinkle shot for prevention of chronic migraines in 2010. Dr. Martin says it has been promising for many of his patients.

“For the first time in my life, my headaches went away, or if I had one, it would be mild and controllable,” Braddock says. “Botox has changed everything.”

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