UCSD Health’s Headache Center aims to help patients ‘every step of the way’

Dr. Nina Riggins is director of UC San Diego Health's Headache Center in Sorrento Valley.
(Kyle Dykes / UC San Diego Health)

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Headaches are something millions of people in the United States experience, but specialists at UC San Diego Health’s Headache Center understand that each one is unique and might require a different treatment.

Dr. Nina Riggins, a neurologist and director of the center, said the Sorrento Valley facility uses medication, medical devices and procedures to treat the various types of headaches and participates in education efforts and research.

“We use classic treatments and world-class treatments that are targeted therapies for headaches … that have less side effects,” she said. “We treat migraine, cluster headaches, post-traumatic headache and all the types of headaches.”

At the core of every treatment is collaboration with the patient, Riggins said.

“From Day 1, we have the patients fill out a headache diary to figure out what the person is doing that is triggering their headache,” she said. “We determine whether exercise programs could be helpful … and what to eat and what not to eat. It was thought that chocolate can trigger migraines, but studies have shown it does not. But then there are foods that do cause headaches, such as hot dogs and other processed meats.”

Given that changes in areas of one’s life are often called for, the center collaborates with other doctors at UCSD, such as sleep specialists, nutritionists and integrative medicine practitioners.

Should further care be needed, the center offers medications and/or use of medical devices in the clinic or at home.

“We have transmagnetic stimulation devices for headaches which can be used at home,” Riggins said. “We use single-pulse TMS for the treatment of migraine attacks which can be used in acute attacks and as a preventive therapy.”

“It’s very important to have something that can help rewind the brain to a better state. We’re very proud that UCSD has this option for patients.”

— Dr. Nina Riggins

The center also uses four other devices cleared by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, one of which is the vagal nerve stimulation (VNS) device, a treatment option for migraine attacks and cluster headaches.

Every clinic room is equipped with optional green light, which has been shown to soothe light sensitivity associated with headaches.

In-clinic procedures include Botox for chronic migraine attacks, trigger point injections and a needle-less sphenopalatine ganglion (SPG) block that delivers targeted therapy through the nose.

“It’s important we have different modalities,” Riggins said.

The center has specialists ready to treat women who have headaches related to childbirth and lactation and to help veterans who have headaches associated with post-traumatic stress and traumatic brain injury.

“We welcome them and build a team ... that works for them,” Riggins said. “It’s very important to have something that can help rewind the brain to a better state. We’re very proud that UCSD has this option for patients.”

“I want people to know we are there for them … so they don’t think they are alone,” Riggins added. “Migraine as a headache disease can be very lonely for a person. We realize that and we have a comprehensive, multidisciplinary team to support our patients every step of the way.”

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