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Stop Suffering Migraines 'In Silence' And Consider These Lesser Known Remedies

Hundreds of thousands of Australians are unnecessarily living in pain, simply because they don’t know how to prevent migraines, according to new research.

For years, psychologist Stephanie Goodhew was just another statistic. She says she "suffered in silence" and didn't get a diagnosis, let alone treatment for her migraines until she was in her twenties.

“When I have one, looking at light induces a razor sharp pain," she said.

Goodhew was soon able to manage her pain and now researches the area for a living.

"I was lucky enough to see a particularly savvy GP that realised I was light sensitive and referred me to a neurologist,” she said.

READ MORE: The Debilitating Life Of A Migraine Sufferer: 25 Excruciating Days A Month

Goodhew's study released on Friday found one-in-five people who suffered from migraines didn't know about preventative medications they can access.

“A migraine is more than a headache. It's an incredibly disabling condition that is also incredibly common - about 15 per cent of the population suffer from migraines,” she said.

Image: Getty Images

Goodhew says the findings highlight a need for a public health campaign to inform the community on the treatments and defining features of migraines.

Treatment Options

While many believe headaches are not serious, having a migraine is quite different and is far more painful, and often debilitating.

Symptoms include loss of speech, dizziness, nausea and even temporary blindness (in addition to the throbbing pain).

In the first instance health professionals suggest doing what you can to avoid migraine triggers such as stress management, developing good sleep habits and modifying your diet.

If that fails, here are various treatment routes.

Traditional Medication

Most over-the-counter treatments are only helpful for people who have mild or moderate, rather than severe, migraine pain. Here non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen or aspirin may suffice.

Prescription medication that can be used to treat some migraines includes triptan medication, ergotamine compounds, strong anti-inflammatory drugs, narcotic-type analgesics and some antiemetic medications might be prescribed with other acute therapies to minimise nausea.

Preventative treatments may be prescribed for regular use for those who experience chronic migraines. These drugs include beta blockers, serotonin antagonists,  anti-epileptic drugs, antidepressants and calcium.

But there are risks to consider.  “In the short term acute medications can massively reduce the pain but there are other risks if those medications are overused,” Dr Goodhew said.

READ MORE: Migraines Can Cost You More Than $27,000 A Year

Botox is another migraine treatment option, albeit an expensive one. Migraine sufferers are required to get several shots of Botox around their head and neck once every 12 weeks to dull or prevent symptoms. Each visit costs several hundred dollars.

"There are certainly a range of different treatments around. Botox has definitely shown benefits," Professor Lyn Griffiths, who heads up the Institute of Health Biomedical Innovation, told 10 daily.

New Drug On The Market

In late September, Australia's drug regulatory body TGA approved a new preventative treatment for migraine. The new medicine targets the calcitonin gene-related peptide receptor and is administered monthly via injection.

Marketed as Aimovig, it is not currently listed on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) and costs approximately $700 per treatment. 

"It certainly shows some efficacy but it won't necessarily work for everyone," Griffiths said.

Butterbur, feverfew, magnesium, and riboflavin are proven to help manage migraine symptoms.
Alternative Therapy

According to U.S. consumer watchdog organisation Consumer Reports, the top five dietary supplements are butterbur, Coenzyme q10, feverfew, magnesium and riboflavin.

Guidelines from the American Academy of Neurology classify butterbur as effective; feverfew, magnesium, and riboflavin as probably effective; and Coenzyme Q10 as possibly effective for preventing migraines.

Available evidence suggests a course of acupuncture consisting of at least six treatment sessions can "be a valuable option for people with migraine". This conclusion is based on an academic review of 22 trials with 4985 people up until 2016.

Image: Getty Images
Other Non-Medicinal Remedies Used To Manage Migraines
  • Acupuncture
  • Alexander technique
  • Aromatherapy
  • Biofeedback
  • Chiropractic Therapy
  • Homeopathy
  • Hydrotherapy
  • Hypnotherapy
  • Massage
  • Meditation
  • Naturopathy
  • Osteopathy
  • Physiotherapy
  • Relaxation Techniques
  • Shiatsu
  • Yoga
How To Know What's Best For You

"We want to try and set up treatment guidelines and a centre for excellence in Australia to get more information to clinicians and patients about new treatment methods," Griffiths said.

Griffiths said her team has applied for funding from The National Health and Medical Research Council, but was unsuccessful four years in a row.

"People are not taking migraine research seriously despite how debilitating the disability can be ... because it's not a fatal condition and I think there is still a stigma around migraines.

People still think you just have a headache from a big night, but this is not a hangover."

Contact the author alattouf@networkten.com.au