Last updateTue, 19 Sep 2017 5pm

Your Health

Migraine: More than a bad headache

Throbbing head, sensitivity to light or sound, nausea, visual disturbance and an inability to function normally. If you suffer from migraine headaches, you probably recognize at least some of these symptoms. And you are not alone. The National Headache Foundation estimates that more than 37 million Americans, more than 10 percent of the population, suffer from migraines.

Migraines may not be life threatening, but they can be debilitating, with a negative impact on careers and personal lives. The World Health Organization considers migraines among the leading causes of disability in the world, with an enormous societal cost in terms of lost productivity.

Migraine is more than a bad headache. While its pathophysiology is not fully understood, migraine is considered a chronic brain disorder triggered by various factors, such as stress. Severe, intermittent headaches are a symptom of the disorder frequently associated with sensitivity to light, sound or smell and a cause of nausea and vomiting. There are a number of types of migraine, including migraine with or without aura, menstrual migraine and even abdominal migraine.

Migraines cannot be cured, but they can be managed. Because everyone who suffers from migraine is unique, there is no one-size-fits-all solution. It may take time and experimentation to find workable prevention and treatment methods. However, relief is available. If you suffer from migraines, or know someone who does, a visit to a physician is, of course, in order. But being an informed patient is also a good idea. Learning as much as you can about migraine headaches will increase your odds of finding a solution.

“Migraine: Your Questions Answered” (DK, 2007) is a good place to start. Written by migraine sufferer and neurologist Carol Foster, M.D., the book uses plain language and provides answers to many questions. “Migraine,” published by the British company DK, known for beautiful graphics and design, is a pleasure to read because it is so visually attractive.

Readers can learn about all aspects of the migraine experience: understanding what it is and who gets it, identifying headache triggers, making lifestyle changes and finding treatment that works. Included in the section “Living with Migraine” are practical suggestions for household planning, travel, coping with holiday stress, medication management and dealing with other illnesses. Free of medical jargon, “Migraine” is a great source of general advice for managing migraines.

For more in-depth guidance, yet also written for the lay reader, “The Keeler Migraine Method” (Avery, 2008) is a great choice. Author Robert Cowan, M.D., director of the Stanford Headache Clinic, is founding director of the renowned Keeler Migraine Center in Ojai. A migraine sufferer, Cowan ably blends professional knowledge and clinical expertise with his personal understanding of the headache experience.

“The Keeler Migraine Method” aims to help migraine sufferers understand why they get headaches, how to avoid them, how to reduce their severity and frequency and how to treat them when they occur. The Keeler Method helps patients develop a personal plan for managing their headaches.

The book takes a three-pronged approach: Operating from the premise that every headache situation is unique, a series of self-assessment questionnaires allows people to identify their own migraine triggers, and readers are shown how to live an anti-migraine lifestyle and plan ahead for ways to handle headaches.

Seventy-five percent of migraine sufferers are female, so it only seems right that there is a book just for women. “The Woman’s Guide to Managing Migraine: Understanding the Hormone Connection to Find Hope and Wellness” (Oxford University Press, 2013) is just that book. Author Susan Hutchinson, M.D., like the other authors mentioned in this column, is both a migraine patient and a physician who specializes in headache care.

Hutchinson’s book chronicles the stories of seven different women who suffer from debilitating migraines. Through their experiences, readers learn about the ways hormones affect headaches, strategies to prevent headaches and treatment options, including complementary and alternative therapies.

All three books can be found on the shelves at Stanford Health Library, along with many more that focus on migraine headaches. Stanford Health Library librarians provide free research to help answer your specific questions. Trustworthy links to information, including a video featuring Stanford neurologist Meredith Barad, M.D., speaking on the topic, can be found on the Health Library’s website at healthlibrary.stanford.edu/resources/bodysystems/neuro_headache.html#migraine.

The main branch of Stanford Health Library is located in Hoover Pavilion, 211 Quarry Road, Suite 201. Hours are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays. Library assistance is also available on the first floor of Stanford Hospital and on the main level of Stanford’s Cancer Center.

Nancy Dickenson is head librarian at Stanford Health Library. For more information, call 725-8400, email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or visit healthlibrary.stanford.edu.

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