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Headaches and Migraines

Understanding Headaches and Migraines

Headache is one of the most common medical complaints. Although tension-type headache is by far the most common headache type, the vast majority of patients who seek medical care for their pain have migraines. About 28 million Americans suffer from migraine headache. Approximately one in four households in America has a family member with migraine.

Migraine headaches are moderate to severe in intensity and may endure for four to 72 hours. They may be pulsating, can be triggered by routine activity, and sometimes cause sensitivity to light, sounds and smells. Nausea and/or vomiting may result. Some patients report an aura, or visual disturbance, before the migraine occurs. If migraine headaches occur 15 days per month or more, chronic migraine may be the diagnosis.

Patients referred to a headache specialist usually report the following:

  • High frequency of headaches
  • Headaches that cause significant suffering
  • Undiagnosed headache disorder
  • Headaches unresponsive to previous treatments

Treatments for Migraine and Other Types of Headache

The Washington University Headache Center evaluates and treats patients with headache disorders including but not limited to migraine, tension-type headache, cluster headache, new daily persistent headache, and thunderclap headache.

Treatments are now available that can significantly reduce the pain and disability caused by migraines and headaches. Depending on the headache type and frequency, treatment plans may include avoidance of headache triggers, preventative medications, acute headache medications, physical therapy, and biobehavioral treatments such as biofeedback and relaxation therapy.

Patients are often asked to maintain a headache diary. This should include headache frequency, timing, location, potential triggers, current and past treatments, and prior tests performed.

Clinical research trials also are available for qualifying headache patients. Clinical trials examine how best to prevent and treat headaches. By participating in a clinical trial, patients may have access to new and experimental therapies that would otherwise be unavailable at this time.

For a referral to a Washington University neurologist or neurosurgeon at Barnes-Jewish Hospital, call 855.925.0631.

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