CPH neurologist Hamza Malek, offers tips on migraine management

Canton-Potsdam Hospital Neurologist Hamza Malek, MD, examines one of his chronic migraine patients pre-COVID-19. St.Lawrence Health photo

CANTON — Common migraine triggers include too much or too little caffeine (depending on the person), dehydration, alcohol, processed meats, aspartame (artificial sweetener), missing meals, odors, stress, sleep changes, menses, and weather changes. Women are documented as having more migraines than men.

This month is Migraine and Headache Awareness Month and Canton-Potsdam Hospital Neurologist Hamza Malek, noted it is important to keep a headache journal to see what individual triggers may include.

“I once had a patient who told me she realized the make-up she was using was triggering migraines. There are a lot of other possible triggers, so it is a good idea to keep a log of everything you ate or anything out of the ordinary for that day,” Dr. Malek said.

Migraines are a subtype of headache that are usually throbbing, may be one sided, or may affect the temple area. When these headaches come on, they can cause light sensitivity, sound sensitivity, nausea, and vomiting. When you feel a migraine coming on, it is important to take a pain reliever as soon as possible.

“An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure; or rather, the best way to treat a migraine is not having one in the first place,” Dr. Malek said in a press release from the hospital. “When you develop a migraine, the longer you wait, the less effective medication will be. Over the counter medicine such as acetaminophen, naproxen, or ibuprofen works well in many cases, but you should speak with your health care provider to make sure they are safe for you to take. If these do not work, there are prescription medication options available.”

He explained there are two types of treatments for migraines: preventative therapy is medication that is taken regularly to prevent migraines from occurring in the first place, and abortive therapy is medication taken right when the migraine comes on. There are a lot of different options for both, and many new treatments have come out over the last three to four years.

“I feel there is a lot of misunderstanding about migraines and migraine treatment. Some people have headaches very frequently, but only call their most severe headaches migraines, even though their other headaches meet the diagnostic criteria for migraines,” Dr. Malek said. “Many people also don’t realize taking pain killers, including Tylenol, ibuprofen, and naproxen, more than three days a week for a long period of time can actually provoke headaches.”

Along with the pounding headache and possible nausea, you may also experience auras with a migraine, which are disturbances in the nervous system.

“Auras classically include seeing colorful spots or zigzag lines, and some people can even get tingling through their body, have speech difficulties, or experience weakness. Sometimes people can have an aura without developing a headache,” Dr. Malek noted.

He further said it is important for migraine sufferers to know there are many treatment options available and patients should discuss them with their provider.

Don’t put your migraine care on hold, learn more about St. Lawrence Health’s Neurological team at www.stlawrencehealthsystem.org/services/neurology.

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