Stress Awareness Month: Dr. Alex Feoktistov, MD and PhD Advises on Importance of Non-Drug Treatment for Adolescent Migraine
About 10% of all school-aged children and 28% of teens between 15-19 years suffer from migraines, according to the Migraine Research Foundation. Migraines in adolescents can be caused by stress as well as increase stress, which impacts schoolwork, sleep, friendships, and overall health and mood. Using drug-based treatments can raise concerns for parents looking to help address their children’s migraine symptoms due to unwanted side effects, overuse of medication, inconsistent relief, or a potential drug aversion. Dr. Alex Feoktistov, MD and PhD, and Director of the Synergy Integrative Headache Center offers advice on how to holistically consider treating migraine symptoms in adolescents to create a balanced and non-pharmacological approach to headache therapy.
"Unfortunately, migraine is far more common than we’d like to think for youths. To relieve their suffering, it is important to empower them by being proactive with treatment which can be beneficial to their lifelong well-being," says Dr. Feoktistov, "For adolescents with migraine, safe, effective options with limited side effects are essential for migraine prevention. There is plenty of growing evidence that shows that non-drug treatments applied and integrated into a patient’s lifestyle can help reduce headache frequency and headache severity while improving overall quality-of-life. In addition, it is important to utilize the best of modern technology and supplement ongoing therapy with effective and safe non-pharmacological treatments. For children and teens, you don’t want to use heavy duty medication unless you have tried a holistic approach first."
If parents suspect that their child may be suffering from migraines, Dr. Feoktistov suggests they candidly discuss symptoms with a pediatrician or headache specialist. He also recommends the following non-drug tips to be considered as part of a frontline treatment plan for adolescent migraine:
Special Diet: Many patients might experience a migraine attack within few hours (or even minutes) after consuming high amounts of tyramine, a certain protein that usually occurs as a food product ages or undergoes fermentation. Therefore, it is important to avoid high tyramine-containing foods like aged cheese, summer sausages, smoked fish, soy sauce. Apart from following a diet, it is also especially important not to skip meals and eat and hydrate regularly.
Regular Aerobic Exercises: Several studies demonstrate that regular aerobic physical activity helps reduce the frequency of migraine attacks. However, for a patient to receive positive benefits from exercise, they need to engage in aerobic activity at least 40 minutes per day at least three days per week.
Adequate Sleep: Dr. Feoktistov recommends 7-8 hours of uninterrupted sleep and going to bed and waking up at a regular time – ideally seven days per week. As insomnia is very common in migraine patients, avoiding stimulating (caffeinated) beverages in the afternoon and limiting screen time for an hour before bed are helpful ways to manage the condition.
Stress Management: A vital part of headache management is reducing stress. Easy reducing tools start with regular sleep and physical exercise. In addition, meditation, mindfulness and simple conversations with peers, friends and relatives might play an important role in overall wellbeing and stress management. For those not familiar with meditation, Dr. Feoktistov recommends starting with some guided meditation or utilizing several great apps in this area such as Headspace, Calm, etc.
Non-Invasive Vagus Nerve Stimulation: Gentle non-invasive electrical stimulation to the vagus nerve, which is the body’s information superhighway connecting the brain to most important internal organs, can help safely block the pain signals that cause migraines with little to no side effects. FDA cleared devices for adolescents, like the gammaCore Sapphire™ (non-invasive vagus nerve stimulator), can be easily used on the go or at home, taking only a few minutes to provide fast & safe relief to both treat and prevent migraine occurrences.
Certain Vitamins and Herbal Supplements: Several vitamins and supplements have been shown to be beneficial for migraine control, including vitamin B2 (riboflavin), magnesium, coenzyme Q10, butterbur. Before starting any new vitamin/supplement, Dr. Feoktistov recommends discussing it with their headache specialist or healthcare provider as not all are beneficial, or even safe, for a particular person.
"I believe that physicians must look at the entire spectrum of treatment and take advantage of the modern, well-supported research and also utilize lifestyle-based and technological treatments," adds Dr. Feoktistov. "For patients of all ages, but especially adolescents, treatment cannot be one size fits all with pharmacological tunnel vision. For both patients and physicians, it is important to work with together and look at the headache condition holistically to help identify the care plan that is the best fit for migraine sufferer."
Synergy Integrative Headache Center is a comprehensive headache clinic located in the Chicago area, working with virtually all types of headache to provide an individualized, patient-centered approach to headache therapy both in person and via telemedicine. Founder and the president of the Synergy Integrative Headache Center, Alexander Feoktistov, MD, is board-certified in Headache Medicine by the United Council of Neurological Subspecialties, received a PhD degree in the field of neurology at the Moscow Medical Academy, completed a fellowship in Pain Management at the Cleveland Clinic, and is currently serving as the President of the American Interventional Headache Society. Dr. Feoktistov and the Synergy Integrative Headache Center offer comprehensive, state-of-the-art headache treatment options for headache management to ensure patients receive quality care that is open, inclusive, and compassionate with dignity and empathy for all.