Clinic uses Aspirin for migraines

A patient once described to Oliver Sachs, a British physician, how she was affected by a migraine attack:

“The wallpaper started to shimmer,” she said. “A few moments later, my hand began to vibrate. Then flashing dots moved across my vision. The pattern on the carpets started to change, and I had visions of flowers opening and closing. These images were dazzling when I closed my eyes. They lasted for 30 minutes, followed by a splitting headache.”

Usually a migraine attack is a two-stage affair. Initially, visions and hallucinations appear as blood vessels become constricted. Later, vessels near the surface of the scalp dilate, producing an excruciating headache. About 90 per cent of patients are afflicted by nausea, 75 per cent by feelings of lightheadedness and 50 per cent by vomiting; 80 per cent are pained by ordinary light.

Aspirin works
During a recent visit to the City of London Migraine Clinic in England, I discovered that many migraine sufferers may be helped just by taking Aspirin. In fact, other medication may not be needed if this coon and effective painkiller is used the right way.

Dr. Anne MacGregor, director of the clinic, is a neurologist and gynecologist. She says while migraine strikes both sexes, it affects three times as many women as men. And the onset is usually during childhood or adolescence.

The clinic has been successfully using Aspirin as its primary treatment for many years, but this important message hasn’t crossed the Atlantic – until now. Moreover, MacGregor claims that Aspirin works just as well as Immitrex in 40 to 50 per cent of cases.

I asked her the obvious: If Aspirin has such a good track record, why isn’t it prescribed for more migraine sufferers in North America?  MacGregor has two explanations:

  • Doctors do not prescribe Aspirin in large enough doses.
  • They must use soluble Aspirin to increase its effectiveness.

Dissolve in water
Soluble Aspirin is simply regular Aspirin dissolved in water. The suggested dose: 975 milligrams (three Aspirins of 325 mg each). This can be repeated in two hours, if needed. Why soluble? Aspirin dissolved in water is absorbed more quickly into the blood for faster relief of symptoms.

Most patients, according to MacGregor, do not require more than 975 mg of Aspirin twice a day. If this dosage is ineffective or has to be used more than twice a week, it’s prudent to use other medication.

My visit to the London Clinic was interesting for several reasons:

  • It confirmed the tendency of many doctors to prescribe newer and more potent medication when the old simple remedies may be equally effective.

What was also interesting the day I visited the clinic:

  • There were no patients.
In a city the size of London, I expected to see several patients being actively treated for migraine. MacGregor explained that the clinic used to be extremely busy but it has gradually put itself out of business.

See your doctor
In effect, the clinic has educated London’s family doctors so well about the use of soluble Aspirin that they rarely refer patients. Today the clinic neurologists primarily consult on complicated cases-ones that fail to respond to usual treatment.

Doctors at the clinic stress an important point:

  • Headaches can result from several problems.
    So don’t self-diagnose recurring headaches. See your doctor.