North Carolina researchers have confirmed what patients have been saying for years about their headaches. The scientists discovered that it's almost impossible for sufferers to identify triggers for their migraines without participating in formal experiments.
According to ScienceDaily, a study from Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center found that most people who have migraines attempt to use real-world conditions instead of controlled experiments to determine the triggers for their headaches. The research team concluded that this approach seldom leads to success because daily changes in conditions like diet, sleep, weather, stress, and exercise make it impossible to isolate the exact conditions required to determine triggers. Patients also tend to be inconsistent and use a trial-and-error approach, such as eating a food for a day or so and then skipping it.
Migraines tend to first strike patients between 10 and 45 years old, MedlinePlus reports. They occur much more frequently in women than in men. Among the most common triggers are stress, anxiety, fragrances, alcohol, bright lights, smoke exposure, and noise. Others include withdrawal from caffeine, sleep pattern alterations, missing meals, hormonal changes, and physical stress like exercise.
The National Headache Foundation says that between 70 and 80 percent of patients who suffer from these headaches have a family history of them. Migraines affect the lives of nearly 30 million Americans.
The North Carolina study followed nine female subjects. Each had regular menstrual cycles and a diagnosis of migraines, some with and some without auras. For three months, each woman kept a daily diary and used an inventory tool to track daily stress levels.
The subjects provided urine specimens each day to check for levels of hormones. The researchers also analyzed three years of local weather data. However, it proved hard even for experts to determine migraine triggers because of problems coming up with identical conditions each time a patient considered a would-be trigger. The conclusion was that patients need to be involved in more formal experiments created by collaborating with their physicians.
My headaches have been dubbed atypical migraines. While all of them have lasted six weeks without interruption, each occurrence has fortunately been separated by a gap of several years. Neither an internist nor a neurologist savvy about migraines has been able to even guesstimate a single trigger.
The impact of findings of the North Carolina study is of questionable value because of the limited number of subjects. The findings merely confirm what migraine patients already knew: It's hard to figure out which triggers are responsible for these painful headaches.
As a patient, I would find a study with specific suggestions for a formal experiment much more useful. However, I also find it dubious that the lifestyle of most patients would make it easy to participate in formal experiments to try to identify migraine triggers.
Vonda J. Sines has published thousands of print and online health and medical articles. She specializes in diseases and other conditions that affect the quality of life.
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