Spotlight on: Neurology Specialist Headache Nurse
To mark Migraine Awareness Week (6-12 September) we spoke to Lisa Sant, Neurology Specialist Headache Nurse in the Migraine and Headache Disorders Service. Lisa is one of only 60 such nurses in the country and runs clinics to help patients manage their symptoms.
“I decided to specialise in Migraine and Headache Disorder because I have friends who suffer from migraine and understood how it impacts on people’s lives,” said Lisa.
“Migraine can be very misunderstood, often dismissed as ‘just a headache’ by non-sufferers but it’s far from that, it’s a recognised neurological illness.
“The true cause isn’t known, although there’s often a family link and many sufferers identify certain triggers in common, including red wine, cheese, chocolate, citrus fruits, spicy foods and caffeine.”
Around one in seven people worldwide suffer migraines and three times more women suffer than men.
“The service at our hospital was established three years ago after Dr Linda Damian, Consultant Neurologist, recognised the scale of the problem and the need to provide nurse support.
“On average I see 100 patients per month and during the Covid-19 outbreak there has been an increase in stress and anxiety, which exacerbates migraine frequency for some people.
“Before coming to my clinic, patients can ask their GPs to prescribe drugs which can help manage the frequency and severity of symptoms. I strongly recommend not over-using over-the-counter painkillers, as they can ultimately make the symptoms worse.
“During the clinics I assess patients using data collection via Headache Impact Test 6 scores and look diaries patients are asked to keep for over three months. We discuss treatment options, such as Botox injection therapy and talk about lifestyle changes that can alleviate the pain.
“Greater occipital nerve blocks are also part of the service and new anti – CGRP monoclonal antibody drugs will hopefully be available in the near future which specifically target certain pain receptors.”
When to seek medical advice
There’s currently no cure for migraine but medications are used to control the symptoms. Consult your GP if you:
- Experience frequent or severe migraine symptoms that you can’t control with over-the-counter painkillers – try not to use the maximum dosage on a regular basis as it can make it harder to treat headaches in the longer term.
- Avoid medication overuse by limiting painkillers to two days in a week or 10 a month.
- Have frequent migraines (on more than eight days a month).