Over 37 million Americans suffer from migraines, and women are affected three times more often than men are. This type of vascular headache is typically experienced most commonly by individuals between the ages of 15 and 55. Approximately 70 to 80 percent of those who get migraines have a family history. Less than half of those who suffer from migraines have been given an official diagnosis from their physician. Quite often, migraines can be diagnosed as sinus headaches or tension headaches.
There are many factors that can trigger a migraine, such as changing of sleep cycles, missing/delaying a meal, medications that cause blood vessels to swell, bright lights/sunlight/fluorescent lights, taking medication designed to relieve headaches daily or almost daily, some specific foods, excessive noise, and even viewing TV/movies. Additionally, stress and depression are important triggers that must be diagnosed and treated as separate issues.
What Causes Migraines
The pain of a migraine is caused when the excited brain cells trigger the trigeminal nerve to release certain chemicals that actually cause the blood vessels on the surface of the brain to get irritated and swell. The blood vessels that are now swollen send pain signals to your brainstem, which is the area of the brain that processes pain information. The pain is actually a referred pain that is felt around your eye or temple area. Additionally, pain can occur in your face, jaw, neck, or sinuses. Once a migraine attack is in full swing, you’re likely to be sensitive to anything touching your head- even brushing your hair or shaving could be painful/unpleasant.
A migraine is diagnosed when the history of the migraine relates symptoms and other characteristics of headaches, as well as family history of similar headaches/symptoms is established. Physical examinations done in between the migraine attacks doesn’t show the organic causes of headaches. CT scans and MRIs can be quite useful in confirming the lack of organic causes for the migraine headaches. There is not a test currently available to confirm the diagnosis of migraine.
How Do You Know it’s a Migraine?
Migraine without Aura
If you’re experiencing a migraine without aura, you will have the following signs and symptoms: at least five attacks, each lasting four to seventy-two hours; pulsating pain ranging from moderate to severe on one-side; causes you to avoid or is aggravated by routine physical activity. Additionally, you’ll have at least one of the following: nausea/vomiting; avoidance/hypersensitivity of light or sound.
Migraine with Aura
If you’re experiencing a migraine with aura, you will have the following signs and symptoms- which will resolve: vision loss/visual disturbances (spots, lines, or flickering lights); sensory disturbances (numbness, pins/needles feeling); or disturbances with speech (problems putting together words).
Symptoms Before/During Migraine Attacks
Before or during a migraine attack, you’re likely to have the following symptoms: surge of energy or feeling of overall well-being; increase in appetite; restlessness/talkativeness; irritability or tension; and even drowsiness/depression.
Symptoms During a Migraine Attack
During the migraine attack, you’re likely to experience the following symptoms: nausea/diarrhea/vomiting; sensitivity to light/sounds; sweating/cold, clammy hands; tenderness/pressure on the scalp; pulsating pain; and pale coloring.
Amitriptyline and Migraines
As we already know, a migraine is a very common neurological condition that is characterized by throbbing and painful headaches. Additionally, they cause some people to experience a change in perception. As you see above, the symptoms can be quite stressful and debilitating, and can last for hours or even days. One of the drugs that is commonly prescribed to alleviate migraine headache symptoms is amitriptyline.
Amitriptyline, the generic name for Elavil, is a tricyclic antidepressant and typically is prescribed to treat depression. However, according to the September 26, 2000 issue of “Neurology,” it is also used to help treat and prevent migraines.
Side Effects of Amitriptyline
There are some side effects that come with amitriptyline. These include dizziness, an increase in heart rate, nausea, difficulties with vision, dry mouth, constipation, changes in weight. An overdose of amitriptyline could result in death. In some cases, individuals who start taking this drug could experience an increase in suicidal thoughts. If an individual has been taking amitriptyline and suddenly stops, they could experience nausea, dizziness, and headaches. Reducing the dose could bring restlessness, difficulty sleeping, and even irritability.
Combining amitriptyline and epinephrine could cause an increase in blood pressure. Those individuals who have recently taken a monoamine oxidase inhibitor, or MAOI- which is a type of antidepressant, should not be given amitriptyline. The above side effects could be increased if Tagamet- an anti-heartburn drug- is taken with it.
Do Not Take Amitriptyline
If you have experienced seizures, you could have an increased risk of repeated seizures when taking amitriptyline. Additionally, individuals with glaucoma could experience an increase in eye pressure while taking the drug.
Due to the stress levels, more and more people are beginning to experience migraine headaches. Over thirty-seven million Americans are affected by them- and most of that number is women. Family history and a variety of other factors contribute to migraine headaches. If you are experiencing headaches and you suspect that it may be migraines, take the time to visit your physician to receive a proper diagnosis- most people never do that.
He/she may be able to prescribe you something to help control/prevent your migraines. Though amitriptyline is commonly used as an antidepressant, it is being used more and more to treat migraine headaches. If your physician has diagnosed you with migraines- no matter what type- you should speak with him/her about using amitriptyline to control and prevent them.