Migraine headaches are a heavy burden. They are estimated to cost Americans more than $20 billion annually in medical costs and missed work and productivity, causing the World Health Organization to declare them one of the 20 most disabling illnesses.
What causes migraines? Exact causes of migraines are not currently known, but research has shown that they are affected by changes in serotonin levels in the brain and that they are largely hereditary. Most people who suffer from migraines have a family history of the disorder. If one parent suffers from migraines, his or her child has a 50 percent chance of developing them as well; if both parents suffer from migraines, the child's risk is bumped to 75 percent.
What triggers a migraine? Though there is not always a clear trigger for migraines, emotional stress, hormonal fluctuations, changes in weather, menstruation, sensitivity to chemicals and food preservatives, poor sleep, medication, alcohol, and excessive caffeine consumption or withdrawal are all common triggers. A small number of people who suffer from migraines experience auras, sensory changes that occur before, during, or after a migraine. Most auras are visual, and include blurred vision, flashing lights, and blind spots, but can also be accompanied by motor or verbal disturbances.
Do I need to see a neurologist? If you experience chronic migraines, start having new headache symptoms, or your migraines are not responding to treatment, your doctor may recommend that you see a neurologist. A neurologist can conduct diagnostic tests in addition to a physical exam and a review of your family and medical history. Keeping a headache journal or calendar can help you and your doctor find causes and triggers for your migraines and can help provide possible solutions. Take note of the following:
• Did anything soothe or eliminate your headache?
• Did you sleep well the night before?
• During what part of your menstrual cycle did it occur?
• Did light, sound, or scents make it worse?
• What did you eat and drink during the 24 hours prior to the onset of symptoms?
• What were you doing prior to or during the headache?
• Was the weather unusual or did it change?
• Did you experience any changes in vision?
• Did you take any new medication?
Working closely with your doctor and a neurologist can help you start the battle against migraines. Talk with your doctor to create a health and wellness plan that works for you.
For help finding a neurologist or any specialist or primary care physician that meets your needs, contact St. Luke's Physician Referral Service at 314-205-6060 or visit the online physician directory at stlukes-stl.com.
St. Luke’s Hospital is an independent, nonprofit healthcare provider committed to improving the quality of life for its patients and the community. In its 150-year history, St. Luke’s has grown from a single hospital location to an advanced network of care. It provides personalized healthcare services in over 60 specialty areas at its 493-bed hospital in Chesterfield, Mo. and offers 25 other locations across the greater St. Louis area, bringing quality healthcare services close to home. St. Luke’s is nationally-recognized for quality care and consistently earns high patient satisfaction scores. In addition, St. Luke’s is the exclusive St. Louis affiliate of the nation’s No. 1 heart hospital, Cleveland Clinic’s Sydell and Arnold Miller Family Heart & Vascular Institute. For more information, visit stlukes-stl.com.
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