(CNN)When most people get a headache, a simple over-the-counter pain reliever and a few moments of quiet can usually do the trick. But for millions of Americans suffering from debilitating migraines, the pain can be so intense that relief may seem out of reach.
Faced with a growing demand for solutions, researchers, drug companies and medical providers have sought out new treatment options. A widening class of medications, devices and alternative therapies is presenting those who suffer from moderate to severe migraines with various options to explore.
A study published
Monday in the medical journal JAMA Internal Medicine said acupuncture may be helpful in reducing the frequency of migraines and preventing attacks.
Botox, widely known for its cosmetic uses, is a neurotoxin that is approved by the Food and Drug Administration for migraine prevention. Researchers suggest that the botulinum toxin blocks the transmission of pain signals between nerve cells.
But when Howard and her family returned to the United States in 2012, she was unable to find a local provider to administer acupuncture and waited about a year to get approved to see a provider outside the Veterans Affair’s health system to continue Botox treatments.
Today, Howard uses an FDA-approved transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation device, is receiving Botox therapy and takes two prescription medications. Still, she says, she has not experienced significant relief.
“I can get about 20 headaches in a month on a bad month. But I get them every week,” Howard said.
Coming down the pipeline
The lack of options to ensure complete relief is leading migraine sufferers to seek out alternative treatment options, including yoga and meditation.
“The good news is we’ve made a lot of inroads, and we’re making even more inroads into this,” Newman said. “So, you know, with time, we’re going to get to that cure.”
Researchers continue to find new ways to treat migraines. Alternative therapies such as biofeedback, stress management and acupuncture have received promising results and patients are beginning to widely accept these new methods.
Magnolia Ng, a licensed acupuncturist and pain management specialist in San Francisco who was not involved in the JAMA study, studied both the Eastern and Western traditions. She says she is not surprised by the study results and has seen some similar benefits in her practice.
“At a cellular level, (acupuncture) changes the muscle cells as well as the fascia at the acupuncture point to influence the expression of pain in our body,” she said. “It also stimulates the body’s ability to recover from any illnesses and heal itself.”
Typically, Ng hears from patients who have exhausted their medication options. She says it is common for people to come to her before trying medications that may have risks involved.
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Dr. Stephen Silberstein, former president of the American Headache Society, says there are lots of treatment options for migraine. Most important, he says, are lifestyle changes. “Try to get adequate sleep, don’t get drunk, and if you take caffeine on a regular basis, take it on the weekends and don’t withdraw from it.”
Silberstein is also eagerly awaiting potential new drugs designed to block the molecule (calcitonin gene-related peptide) that spikes during attacks, in hopes of stopping a migraine in its tracks.
“They’re in clinical trials, and from what we know at this point, they’re safe. They seem to have no significant, if any, adverse events. They’re tolerable, and they work. In some people, they work extraordinarily well,” he said.
With many options existing and still a lot of confusion around migraines and treatment, Newman advises his patients to have an open dialogue with their providers. “Discuss it with your doctor and see if your doctor has any recommendations.”
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