WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. April 8, 2013 Women often point to stress, hormones, alcohol, or even the weather as possible triggers for their migraines. But a new study from Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center found that it is nearly impossible for patients to determine the true cause of their migraine episodes without undergoing formal experiments.
The majority of migraine sufferers try to figure out for themselves what causes their headaches based on real world conditions, said lead author Timothy T. Houle, Ph.D, associate professor of anesthesia and neurology at Wake Forest Baptist.
"But our research shows this is a flawed approach for several reasons," he said. "Correctly identifying triggers allows patients to avoid or manage them in an attempt to prevent future headaches. However, daily fluctuations of variables such as weather, diet, hormone levels, sleep, physical activity and stress appear to be enough to prevent the perfect conditions necessary for determining triggers."
For example, said Houle, the simple act of drinking a glass of wine one day and not on the next could be complicated by inconsistencies in other factors. Similarly, a patient may drink wine for several days, but adding cheese to the mix one day could further skew results. In fact, a valid self-evaluation requires such perfect conditions that only occur about once every two years, he said.
"Many patients live in fear of the unpredictability of headache pain. As a result, they often restrict their daily lives to prepare for the eventuality of the next attack that may leave them bedridden and temporarily disabled," Houle said. "They may even engage in medication-use strategies that inadvertently worsen their headaches. The goal of this research is to better understand what conditions must be true for an individual headache sufferer to conclude that something causes their headaches."
Houle and co-author Dana P. Turner, M.S.P.H., also of the Wake For
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Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center