When to call a doctor about those migraine headaches

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There is no feeling quite like that of a pounding migraine headache. The agonizing pain can last hours or even days! But there are solutions to stop – and even prevent – the searing pain of a migraines.

Let’s start by delineating between migraines and more generic – and less painful – headaches.

Brian Fahey, DO, who is a neurologist at Ohio State Wexner Medical Center’s Neurological Institute, defines the clear differences between the two types of headaches.

“Not every bad headache is a migraine. Migraines are recurring headaches of, often, excruciating pain that occur of one side of the head,” says Dr. Fahey.

Patients often report the pain of migraine headaches being debilitating in nature – or preventing them from performing normal daily activities. Migraines can last anywhere from four hours to multiple days in extreme cases.

Women are up to three times more likely than men to experience migraines.

What triggers migraine headaches?

For some people, there are clear triggers that cause migraines. Dr. Fahey says common triggers are caffeine, processed meats, such as salami, cheese and chocolate.

While doctors have been able to help people understand various triggers of migraines, the root cause of migraine headaches remains unclear.

What is the treatment for migraines?

Dr. Fahey explains the first course of action is to understand if certain foods, drinks or something else is triggering the migraines. 

The treatment can take on one of two tracks. 
  • Preventive: There are a number of medication and non-medication options. 
  • Abortive: This tactic aims to get rid of the pain after it starts, usually via pain medication namely tryptan, which is used specifically to treat migraines.

When to see a doctor about migraine headaches

A person’s age can play a big role in determining if – and when – you should seek treatment, according to Dr. Fahey.

“If recurring headaches are a new phenomena, especially if over age 30, then you should get it checked out,” explains Dr. Fahey.

He says other more serious conditions – including aneurysms and tumors – could be at play if you notice changes in already existing migraine headaches. He adds if you are experiencing numbness or weakness to contact your doctor.

Schedule directly with a neurologist

Ohio State now offers direct online scheduling with our neurologists to address migraines without needing a referral from your primary care doctor. 

“When you choose to see a neurologist directly, you’ll be seeing a doctor who has more experience and has seen more patients dealing directly with migraines. We’re also very familiar with the latest research and treatments,” says Dr. Fahey.

He adds you can certainly start with your primary care doctor, who may end up referring you to a neurologist if deemed necessary.
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Jordan Bulcher, a physician assistant at The Ohio State Wexner Medical Center in general neurology explains the difference between headaches and migraines and when you should consider seeing a neurologist for treatment.

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