At the June meeting of the American Headache Society, Justin Nash, an assistant professor of psychiatry and human behavior, presented the results of a study of thirty-eight patients with severe migraine histories. During a ten-week course of behavioral treatment, their average number of days with a headache fell from 21.3 to 12.9. In addition, the migraines’ average duration was cut from 11.1 hours to 8, the measure of headache severity fell from 6.8 to 5.7, and the number of headache-free days per month more than doubled.
In group therapy, Nash explains, patients learned how to avoid such headache triggers as skipped meals, disrupted sleep, and the overuse of painkillers. They also discussed how foods such as chocolate, nuts, caffeinated beverages, aged cheeses, and alcoholic drinks (wine in particular) can set off headaches. Patients also practiced relaxation techniques to help reduce the muscle tension that can provoke and contribute to migraine pain.
Just as important, Nash adds, was the sense of social support the sessions generated. “Pain syndromes like headaches can be very isolating,” he says. “It’s helpful for patients to look across the table and see someone who’s suffering in a similar way.