The Mt. Airy neurologist, who is very fit herself, is seen here running in Wissahickon Park, where Miles for Migraine will be held.

by Len Lear

When most people think of the word “headache,” they probably think of a hangover after too many drinks, whereupon you take a couple of aspirin and get a good night’s sleep, and that’s the end of it. However, as many as 25 to 30 million Americans suffer from debilitating chronic migraine headaches, which can feel like someone pounding on your head with a hammer; they can last four hours or more and can happen on average eight to 15 days a month, causing almost unending misery.

And as if the pounding headaches are not enough, they can also be accompanied by numerous other horrific symptoms. According to scienceofmigraine.com, “Migraine is a distinct neurological disease that is associated with changes in brain biology and function. This debilitating disease is characterized by a moderate to severe headache that is often accompanied by nausea, vomiting, phonophobia and photophobia (extreme sensitivity to light and sound). In the U.S. alone, the overall prevalence of migraine in adults is approximately 12 percent. Migraine headaches are predominantly seen in women and men between the ages of 30 and 39 — the prime, most active years of life. It is two or three times more common in women than in men.”

And even in the days between migraine headaches, “while patients may not feel the full pain of migraine, they’re not feeling 100 percent recovered either, limiting their participation in everyday activities such as work, school, housework, family life and social activities.” Many migraine patients take very strong prescribed medications, but they can have equally devastating side effects.

Dr. Stephanie Nahas Geiger, 44, a resident of Mt. Airy for the last 10 years, has been on the front lines of research into migraine headaches, trying to find a solution to this seemingly insoluble dilemma. A native of East Falls whose undergraduate years were spent at Harvard University and who graduated from Rush Medical College in Chicago in 2001, she has participated in headache research since her final year of residency in 2005. (Believe it or not, in the midst of medical school, she also pursued a masters degree in education — in instructional technology, to be exact — which she earned from the University of Southern California in 1998.)

Dr. Nahas has been involved in several studies that have found their way into medical journals and five more research papers that were presented at national meetings but have not been published in a journal. Examples of her findings include: “In a population of patients admitted to our hospital with an acute stroke, a history of migraine was associated with having a larger sized stroke” and “Patients with unruptured intracranial aneurysm (UIA) are prone to headache, specifically migraine. Treating UIA may improve the preexisting headache.”

Dr. Nahas knows from her own practice just how cruel and unforgiving migraine headaches can be. In a recent interview, she told us, “I recall having to get through a difficult phone call during a difficult time. One of the tragic consequences of inadequately controlled migraine is unfortunately suicide. Despite my best efforts, one of my patients took her own life several years ago because she just couldn’t live with the pain anymore.

“I found out when the police paged me through our answering service after hours. The next day, I spoke to her husband to express my condolences and regrets that I couldn’t help her more than I did. Instead of being angry, he was utterly grateful for everything I and our team had done in at least making her life a little better. He didn’t blame me at all, though I blamed myself, and it’s really hard to get over that. It still haunts me at times.”

Dr. Nahas is affiliated with Thomas Jefferson University Hospital, including Jefferson Hospital for Neuroscience, and Methodist Hospital. She chose to specialize in neurology because “for as long as I can remember, I wanted to be a doctor, like my father. I have also always been fascinated with the brain, particularly our senses and cognitive abilities.”

To aid in research for these neurological diseases, local walkers and runners are getting set for the fifth annual “Miles for Migraine” walk and run scheduled for Saturday, Oct. 7, beginning at 8:30 a.m. in Wissahickon Park. The two-mile walk and 5K/10K run raise funds to help increase public awareness about headache disease and the need to fund headache disease research. The walk and two runs will take place along Forbidden Drive at Valley Green. The race will begin in front of Cedar’s Café on Forbidden Drive.

What does Dr. Nahas like about living in Mt. Airy? “I love just about everything! It has a more suburban feel, though still distinctly Philly, while still being just a 25-minute train ride from downtown. Being close to the Wissahickon was one of the major reasons we moved here. We love biking Forbidden Drive, and I enjoy running in the hilly trails as well as on the Drive. We also love the diversity of the neighborhood and the strong sense of community. All are warmly welcomed here, regardless of race, national origin, ethnicity, religion, gender identity, sexuality, age, disability, etc. Housing is affordable. One of our neighborhood mottoes is ‘I like Mt. Airy.'”

More information about Miles for Migraine at katie@milesformigraine.org or 802-734-7598.

  • Shirley Steinman Kessel

    Great article on the disabilty many of us feel with migraine. Thanks Dr. Nahas!

  • Cindy Reynolds

    Thank you for your dedication to primary headache care. I am one grateful cluster headache patient.

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