6 Things To Know About Migraines and Cluster Headaches

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Searching for answers about migraine and cluster headaches, which affect over 30 million Americans, can be enough to give you a headache. The myriad pieces of advice, scientific findings and folk remedies can alternately provide hope or prove maddening. But recently, research has been paying off.

1. If You’ve Ever Felt A Room’s Lighting Affects You …

Researchers report that they have found a link between the pain associated with migraine headaches and exposure to light. Having noted that blind migraine sufferers also experience photophobia or acute sensitivity to light, Drs. Rodrigo Noseda and Rami Burstein examined two groups of migraine sufferers: those who are blind, and those with slight visual perception. The latter group described aggravated pain when exposed to light — blue or gray wavelengths in particular. The optic nerve must play a crucial role in the migraine process, the researchers concluded. Later, they injected dyes into the eyes of animals, enabling them to trace signals from the optic nerve to the brain. “Clinically this research sets the stage for identifying ways to block the pathway so that migraine patients can endure light without pain,” says Dr. Burstein.

2. More Than An Indulgence?

Researchers from the American Headache Society say Theobroma cacao (or cocoa, by its more popular name) may alleviate migraine severity. Cocoa possesses anti-inflammatory properties which work to inhibit trigeminal ganglia response, a source of the symptoms of migraine. States Dr. Paul L. Durham, “It appears that a cocoa-enriched diet in rats can repress the proteins that are associated with … inflammatory responses such as migraine.”

3. The Pain Seems As Fickle As the Weather

A team of researchers traced a correlation between the onset of migraine headaches and climate patterns — rises in humidity or days of rain. Twenty-five children served as the test subjects. Each was given a hand-held computer on which to record headache symptoms. The scientists, headed by Dr. Mark Connelly, then compared the data they had received to climate measurements within the same time frame, to bolster the idea that “weather changes may contribute to headache onset.”

4. A Breath of Fresh Air Really Helps

High-flow oxygen offers a successful short-term antidote to bouts of cluster headache, concludes a recent study. Based on a sample group of 109 adults, researchers found that 78 percent of the patients who received oxygen stated that they had achieved adequate relief within 15 minutes of a cluster headache’s onset — versus 20 percent of the patients who received a placebo (air).

5. The Brain Moves in Mysterious Ways

An article published in Neurology reinforces the notion of a genetic link between migraine and depression. The primary author of the study, Dr. Gisela M. Terwindt, says, “Common genetic pathways may, at least partly, underlie both of these disorders, rather than that one is the consequence of the other.” Particularly in regard to migraines with aura, the researchers found a shared genetic component between the two afflictions in their study of 2,652 people. Team member Dr. Andrew Ahn states, “Understanding the genetic factors that contribute to these disabling disorders could one day lead to better strategies to manage [their] course when they occur together.”

6. Knowing is the First Step in Preventing

Researchers at Johns Hopkins University found migraine headaches raise the risk of the most common kind of stroke by more than twofold. While nearly 1,800 articles have been written about the relationship between migraine and ischemic stroke, the latest findings drew only on studies with comparable designs and test subjects, in addition to being more comprehensive in scope. Smoking cessation and taking anti-hypertension or blood-thinning medications, such as aspirin, can decrease the risk of migraine, Dr. Saman Nazarian states. Stopping use of oral contraceptives or hormone replacement therapy can help female patients.

This is an updated version of an article in Brain World Magazine’s Spring 2010 issue.

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