“I had nine migraines in less than 14 weeks that lasted anywhere from three to five days."
Stephanie Hillner, 36, suffered from migraine pain for years, but her headaches became more frequent and more painful after the birth of her son two years ago.
“It was horrible,” Hillner said. “I had nine migraines in less than 14 weeks that lasted anywhere from three to five days. I couldn’t do anything for days at a time.”
Hillner found only a little relief by placing a mask over her eyes and lying down in bed, isolated from people, light and sound. She visited several neurologists and the answer always was the same: Try this different medication.
Then she learned about the Headache & Concussion Center, which offers expert treatment of all types of chronic headache pain and concussions. There, with the help of Brian Plato, D.O., neurologist and headache specialist, Hillner finally found relief.
“I had no quality of life for so long,” she said, “so being able to find what worked best for me was really incredible.”
Hillner is not alone in her search for relief. Women are particularly prone to migraines — 18 percent nationwide versus 6 percent of men, according to Dr. Plato. And by age 50, up to 40 percent of women have been affected by migraines.
“The easy answer is hormones, but the reality is that it is a combination of many things,” Dr. Plato said.
The most commonly identified triggers for migraine are hormonal changes, sleep changes, stress and dietary changes.
“You can see how these triggers frequently affect women,” Dr. Plato said.
About 60 percent of women report their migraines worsen during menstruation, when a drop in estrogen occurs. These migraines are referred to as either pure menstrual migraine (PMM) or menstrually related migraine (MRM).
“These definitions have to do with the frequency of migraine not related to menstruation,” Dr. Plato said. “PMM is migraine that occurs only with menstruation, and MRM is more frequent and severe migraine with menstruation, but migraine at other times of the month as well.”
Other migraine triggers include weather changes, skipped meals, alcohol consumption and ingestion of certain foods that contain MSG, alcohol, preservatives, nitrates and/or tyramine.
There are numerous treatments for all types of migraine; some are preventive and some are rescue strategies. The most common preventive treatments, according to Dr. Plato, include medications (prescribed and over-the-counter), stress management, sleep training, physical therapy and exercise.
Rescue treatments largely include medications. Most patients use over-the-counter medications, such as ibuprofen and acetaminophen, but many patients need prescribed medications, which should not be used more often than twice per week.
“If rescue medications are needed more frequently, it’s time to talk to a physician about better preventive strategies,” Dr. Plato said.
Along with medication overuse, the most common migraine mistake Dr. Plato sees is a downplaying of symptoms.
“My rule of thumb is that when a patient is uncomfortable with headaches, she should seek medical attention — whether it is a single headache that seems unusual or multiple headaches that are occurring more frequently than the patient is comfortable with,” he said. “And it is important to remember that there is no such thing as ‘my normal everyday headache.’ It is not normal to have a headache every day.”
Hillner learned that certain foods were contributing to her migraines.
“I still do not know what foods trigger my migraines — that would take a long time to determine, so I decided to give up all foods that could be the cause of them,” Hillner said.
The most difficult things to give up have been caffeine, cheeses, citrus, chocolate and nuts.
“It is very difficult, but so worth it if you stick to it,” Hillner said. “If I stayed strict 100 percent of the time, I would never get migraines anymore, but that is hard to do.”
Hillner also takes vitamin supplements recommended by Dr. Plato. She is now nearly rid of migraine pain, is able to be active with her two children and is going back to school to learn how she can one day counsel others dealing with migraines.
Finding relief is closer than you think
Norton Neuroscience Institute opened the Headache & Concussion Center as the region’s first center dedicated exclusively to the treatment of headache and concussion pain.
Headache sufferers in our area used to have to travel as far as Chicago, Cleveland or Philadelphia to receive comprehensive care for debilitating headaches such as migraines. Now, the Headache & Concussion Center is on its way to becoming a top regional center for the advanced treatment of complex headache disorders.
“One of the benefits of coming here is that we have physicians specifically trained in the evaluation and management of headache medicine,” Dr. Plato said.
The Headache & Concussion Center offers expert treatment for all types of chronic headache pain, including pharmacological and outpatient infusion treatments; physical, psychological and behavioral therapies; nutritional counseling; Botox and trigger point injections; and occipital nerve blocks.
“While not all headache pain requires medical attention, some types of headaches can make daily life and activities unbearable, or they may be a symptom of a more serious health issue,” Dr. Plato said. “It’s important to seek prompt medical treatment for severe or recurrent headaches.”
For more information, call the Headache & Concussion Center at (502) 899-6782 or visit NortonHealthcare.com/HeadacheAndConcussion.