Many people believe that a migraine is only a severe headache, but this is not the case. Migraines are classifed all to themselves because of the extra symptoms they entail other than pain limited to the head, neck and shoulders.
Approximately 11 in every 100 Americans get migraines, and women are more likely to experience them than men. In most cases, migraines occur between the ages of ten and forty-five, and may be genetically connected in families.
Migraines are caused by abnormal brain activity, which can be triggered by an unrelated factor such as stress, changes in lifestyle or bright lights. How migraines are actually created is unknown, but we do know that they occur when there are changes in the nerve pathways, chemicals and blood flow to the brain.
Migraines are classified in two ways: with aura and without aura. An aura is a symptom that occurs before the migraine sets in, alerting the patient that a migraine is approaching. Most people who suffer from migraines do not experience auras.
Although the exact cause of migraines is not know, the triggers are fairly obvious. Common triggers include bright lights, loud noises, particular odors, allergic reactions, stress (physical or emotional), caffeine (or withdrawal from caffeine), smoking, tension, foods containing tyramine, and fluxuations in the menstrual cycle.
Foods to avoid to prevent migraines: aged cheese, red wine, chicken liver, figs, beans, fish, chocolate, nuts, avocado, banana, citrus, dairy products and peanut butter.
The symptoms of migraines vary from person to person, and can be dully painful or severely painful. Victims usually feel a throbbing or pounding on one side of the head or the other, often escalating to include the entire head. Headache pain may be accompanied by nausea, vomoting, extreme sensetivity to light and sound, a loss of appetite, fatigue and an odd tingling sensation.
For patients with auras, they might begin seeing stars or zig-zagging lines, experience tunnel vision or have a temporary blind spot to the right or left of their vision.
After a migraine, most people feel the need to go right to sleep, as sleeping while the migraine persists is nearly impossible. There might also be lingering neck pain or soreness.
Your primary care physician can usually diagnose migraine headaches based on a review of your symptoms and an understanding of your family history. Your physician will probably give you a physical examination to eliminate other causes for the headaches, which could include sinus problems, tension or brain disorders. He might also order an MRI or CT scan just to make sure.
There is no cure for migraine headaches, but steps can be taken to reduce the chances of experiencing them. The goal is to remove the possible triggers for migraines, which will lessen the possibility of having one. To determine those triggers, your doctor might ask that you keep a headache diary.
When the symptoms of a migraine begin to materialize, it is best that you lie down in a dark room. Some people are helped by a cool towel on their forehead, and you should drink plenty of fluids to prevent dehydration. If you must vomit, avoid restrooms with glaring florescent lights and continue to drink fluids as often as possible.
In some cases, over-the-counter medications such as ibuprofen and aspirin might help to counter the headache and any muscular soreness. If you can, avoid prescription medicines – especially narcotics – though they might become necessary. If your doctor does prescribe a narcotic or a Triptan, be sure to take it only when necessary and in the appropriate dosage.
In especially severe cases, your doctor might prescribe medication to help prevent the recurrence of migraine headaches. Beta-blockers are common migraine medications as are calcium channel-blockers. The most important thing to remember when experiencing migraines is that the episode will pass, and that there are things you can do to prevent future recurrences.