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Research Author: Staff Editor Last Updated: Sep 7, 2017 - 10:06:33 PM

Migraine Victims Suffer in Silence; Only Half Seek Diagnosis, Prescription Medication

By Staff Editor
Feb 5, 2013 - 12:04:58 PM

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( - Of those who suffer the debilitating side effects of migraine headaches, less than half get diagnosed. Most cope by isolating themselves, using over-the-counter medications, and suffering in silence.

But researchers at the University of Nebraska Medical Center College of Nursing Lincoln Division and Bryan Medical Center say many people could get more relief. The researchers -- Nancy Waltman, Ph.D., and Catherine Parker -- have been studying the effectiveness of an intervention to reduce the frequency, severity and disability from migraine headaches.

Results of the study were significant. At 12 months, study participants reported a decrease in frequency of migraines by 76 percent (from an average of two migraines a week to one); severity of pain decreased by 31 percent; and perception of disability from headaches decreased by 66 percent.

"We've found that a lot of women remain silent and don't get treated for their migraines," said Dr. Waltman, a professor of nursing and nurse practitioner at the UNMC College of Nursing  Lincoln Division. "The best treatment is a combination of dietary changes, adjustments in sleep and exercise, avoiding triggers, and preventative medications. Generally narcotics aren't that effective and aren't appropriate for chronic headaches."

Researchers to date have recruited 80 employees and students between the ages of 25 and 67 at Bryan Medical Center in Lincoln. They chose Bryan since many employees are women between the ages of 20 and 55 - the prevalent age span for migraines.

Study participants were educated to identify and avoid migraine headache triggers, coached on dietary and lifestyle changes, and were given prescriptions for medications to prevent and treat migraines. Debilitating symptoms include head pain, nausea, light and sound sensitivity and vomiting, and these symptoms affect work and home life.

The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke estimates that 28 million Americans suffer from migraines. Migraines are three times more common in women than in men.

Parker, a nurse manager in Employee Health Services at Bryan Medical Center, said employers can help reduce sick days for those with migraines by encouraging employees to seek treatment and follow up treatment.

"Migraines are real and incapacitating," Parker said. "It's helpful if employers can recognize employees who suffer from migraines and make appropriate referrals for medical treatment. It's also important if employers can provide an outlet for exercise, stress management and massage therapy, which are all useful for migraine headache sufferers."

Preliminary data, published in Workplace Health and Safety, a publication of the American Association of Occupational Health Nurses, Inc., were analyzed from 28 study participants who kept headache diaries and who documented potential headache triggers as well as the effectiveness of treatments.

Some of the lifestyle and dietary prevention techniques include decreasing caffeine and alcohol consumption, exercising, managing stress, and having regular sleep patterns.

Dr. Waltman said results of the study also indicate that migraine management interventions should be tailored for each individual.

Although statistically significant results were reported, Dr. Waltman said limitations of the study were its small sample size of 28 workers from one occupational setting and not having a control group. "Another reason for this study was to gauge the feasibility of studying this intervention in a larger study. Our results are promising and we are recommending a future, larger study," she said.

Besides affecting quality of life for individuals and their families, migraine headaches result in missed work and decreased productivity. American employers lose more than $13 billion each year as a result of 113 million lost work days due to headache or migraine, according to the Migraine Research Foundation.

For more information on migraines, go to the National Headache Foundation website,

Through world-class research and patient care, UNMC generates breakthroughs that make life better for people throughout Nebraska and beyond. Its education programs train more health professionals than any other institution in the state. Learn more at


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