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Migraines May Be Rooted in Emotions

November 27, 1987|JOHN BRENNAN

Only those who suffer from migraine headaches can describe the desperate measures they are willing to take to rid themselves of pain. Despite medical advances, a specific cure for a migraine is not available and physicians have only a few drugs they can prescribe.

Ancient civilizations believed that migraines were caused by demons inside the head who were constantly hammering away trying to get out. The ancients endeavored to help demons escape by making a hole in the victim's head. The fancy word for this is trephination and as proof, thousands of skulls have been found that have had some neat and not so neat holes in them.

A migraine is a physical problem that may have emotional causes. This is understandable because severe pain can greatly affect emotional equilibrium.

Since 1926, physicians have prescribed ergot--a drug long known to man--in the form of ergotamine tartrate, to relieve migraine headaches. Ergot exerts a direct effect in narrowing blood vessels in the head, presumably lessening the pain. Ergotamine products prescribed for migraine include: Cafergot, Ergomar, Ergostat, Wigraine and others. The drug must be taken at the first sign of a migraine in order to stop the pain.

Ergotamine has serious side effects if taken in excessive doses. Unfortunately, migraine sufferers are in such pain that they tend to increase the prescribed dose to obtain faster relief. Nausea and vomiting can occur in 10% of those taking a normal dosage. Pain and weakness in the legs are frequently reported. Numbness and tingling of the fingers and toes are signs to lessen the dosage or discontinue the drug altogether. Chest pain and irregular heart beat are also common side effects.

It is extremely important to note that people who take ergotamine over long periods may become dependent on it and require larger dosages to obtain relief. Experts in treating migraine tend to prescribe ergotamine and other prescription drugs for migraine rather infrequently. They prefer to use more simple analgesics such as aspirin and codeine and counsel patients to avoid any additional stress that might trigger an attack.

Propranolol, Inderal and other beta blocker drugs prevent attacks in some people, but these drugs also can have side effects.

Migraines also can be triggered by certain foods such as chocolate. I know someone who vehemently declares that a certain brand of beer brings on a migraine. MSG, found in great quantities in Chinese food, is also thought to cause migraines. The list of suspect foods ranges from certain beans to pickles.

Question: I have been taking aspirin for osteoarthritis and have developed an annoying ringing in the ears. Is this due to the aspirin? If so, what can I take in place of it?

Answer: Aspirin can cause ringing in the ears. It is best not to use any product that contains a salicylate. Since inflammation is not present (as it is in rheumatoid arthritis), acetaminophen (Tylenol, Datril) may give you relief from pain.

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