Savannah ranks #1 in U.S. for migraines

SAVANNAH, GA (WTOC) - According to data showing the south has the highest prevalence of migraines and highest pharmaceutical sales for migraines, a local expert claims Savannah is the number one area in the country for migraines.

"I've actually had a couple people have to move out of the area when all measures have failed to try and control the migraines using the most advanced techniques we have available," said Dr. Victor Rosenfeld, a neurologist at SouthCoast Health in Savannah who co-authored a chapter on migraines for Oxford University Press.

Rosenfeld claims the prevalence of migraines in the Coastal Empire is a combination of two reasons: dramatic and frequent barometric pressure shifts, and allergens and pollens. He says the vegetation in the area makes Savannah beautiful and green, but holds the pollens in like a bubble by the marine layer.

"Having both of those triggers, both at the same place at the same time, makes us a very difficult place for folks with migraines," said Rosenfeld.

A chemical in the brain called Calcitonin Related Gene Peptide (CGRP) is elevated in migraines. Rosenfeld says for years, physicians and scientists have been studying how to reduce or block it to reduce migraine frequency and severity, as the symptoms can be debilitating.

"You could be nauseous or vomit with migraines, sensitive to light, sound, smell, even motion which is why they have to keep still," he said.

Those that experience more than four migraines a month are suggested to use preventative medication. Last week the first monoclonal medication, Erenumab, became available. This monthly injection blocks CGRP at the receptor level. Rosenfeld says this is another preventative option for those that suffer with migraines, however different treatment methods work for different people. Other treatment options include: physical therapy, injections, or various types of surgery.

Kysia Davis, a native of Savannah, experienced the pain of migraines for more than 15 years.

"I've lived on this piece of property my entire life," she said. "Mine were like I had a band, on my head, squeezing it, at all times and it didn't matter what I did. It didn't go away. It's the end of the world when you get a migraine."

Davis began with a diagnosis from a neurologist, but visited more than 20 doctors trying to find a solution to her crippling pain. She said she tried every option possible, including several prescription medications, brain surgery, visiting doctors for additional opinions in other states, allergist and optometrist visits, and homeopathic treatments. She said nothing worked until she tried physical therapy.

Davis made an appointment with a physical therapist at SouthCoast Health and said, "I go to see her and after my first treatment I said, 'this is what life is like without a headache.'"

Dr. Rosenfeld said he has had several patients relocate because of the severity of their migraines in the Coastal Empire. Davis admitted after hearing these new findings surrounding Savannah today, the combination of the weather shifts and allergens adds up. She said had she known this before and still not found relief, she would have definitely relocated.

"If I hadn't found physical therapy to help me, after brain surgery, and going through 20 doctors and not having relief, you better believe I would leave," Davis said.

Rosenfeld recommends anyone with migraine symptoms contact a neurologist immediately.

He warned, "The longer it goes unchecked, the more the condition progresses into a severe chronic disabling condition."

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