We’ve all had a headache before, and usually we can move through our day with a few pain pills and some grit. Headaches can be caused by a number of things, including allergies and even stress. But there’s a different type of headache that is debilitating, and can be a sign of a much more dangerous issue.
What is a migraine?
Simply put, a migraine is a type of headache. It’s a type of headache that is characterized by intense pain that may throb on only one side of their head. This intense headache may also be accompanied by other symptoms like nausea, vomiting and extreme sensitivity to light and sound. Over 37 million Americans are living with migraines, and no two patients are exactly alike.
How is a migraine different than a headache?
A migraine is different than a headache in one large way—the pain is more intense in a migraine than in a headache, and the pain is usually centralized to one side of the head. With headaches, symptoms are usually simple with the onset of pain being the main complaint. In contrast, migraines have different stages and you may not be aware of them until you are hit with migraine pain. The four stages of migraines are:
• Prodome stage may start up to 24 hours before the migraine begins. Early signs and symptoms include food cravings, mood chances, excessive yawning, bloating and increased urination.
• Aura is a phase that not every migraine sufferer gets. If you experience the aura phrase, you might see flashing lights or bright lines in your vision. You may also have muscle weakness
• Intense headache is the main symptom of migraines. Usually it begins gradually and becomes more severe. Sensitivity to light and sound are very common, as are nausea and vomiting. Even moving, sneezing or coughing can worsen the pain.
• Postdrome is a post-migraine symptom that may last up to a day. It includes fatigue, weakness and confusion.
What causes a migraine and who’s at risk?
With the way migraines can seem to come on suddenly, there may seem to be no cause or correlation for those who suffer from migraines. However, researchers believe that migraines may have a genetic cause. Certain medical conditions also have migraines as a symptom or side effect, and even lifestyle choices like food and dehydration can increase the risk for migraines. Stress, anxiety and hormonal changes can trigger a migraine, as well as bright or flashing lights, strong smells, or sudden changes in the weather or environment.
Too much caffeine consumption or a sudden caffeine withdrawal can also cause a migraine, as well as eating certain foods or food additives (like MSG.) People who have medical conditions like depression, anxiety, sleep disorders and epilepsy are at a higher risk for migraines, as are women and those who have a family history of the headache.
How do I get rid of them?
Some migraines may be triggered by certain foods, so if you eat any of the following foods you may be at risk:
• Processed, pickled or fermented foods
• Baked goods, including those made with chocolate, nuts and dairy
• Fruits like avocados, bananas and citrus
• Cured meats including sodium nitrate, like hot dogs, bacon and salami
Drinking alcohol, stress, hormone changes, and lack of sleep may also trigger a migraine. If you get one, try to treat your symptoms right away when symptoms begin. Drink water to avoid dehydration, rest or nap in a quiet, dark room and place a cool cloth on your head. Resting or napping in a quiet, dark room is a good way to cure most migraines.
Over-the-counter medications may help if your migraine is not severe. A health care provider may be able to prescribe medication to stop a migraine. Call a doctor or a health care provider if you have speech or movement problems with your migraine, or it starts very suddenly. Visit a doctor if you have migraines that come in patterns or are taking over the counter pain medications more than three days a week.
There is no cure for migraines, but being aware of your migraine symptoms and treating them as soon as they come on can help.
Chronic migraines and types of migraines
There are some patients who suffer from chronic migraines, meaning that the patient has more than 15 migraines per month for at least three months. Chronic migraines often stem from regular migraines that get worse over time. Only about 2.5% of migraine sufferers will develop chronic migraines over time, especially if they treat their migraines slowly or poorly. Over-reliance on medications to treat migraines is a risk factor of developing chronic migraines.
The best way to prevent a migraine and prevent an existing migraine from progressing is to address your risk factors early. Talk to your doctor and address issues that are under your control, like lifestyle choices and activity choices. Don’t become too dependent on over the counter medications and be very aware of the prescriptions that you are taking on a daily basis.
Disclaimer: The contents of this article, including text and images, are for informational purposes only and do not constitute a medical service. Always seek the advice of a physician or other qualified health professional for medical advice, diagnosis, and treatment.