What is a Migraine?
Migraine is a neurological condition that can cause multiple symptoms. Symptoms may include nausea, vomiting, difficulty speaking, numbness or tingling, and sensitivity to light and sound.
Migraines can begin at any stage of life, and are more prevalent in females compared to males. Family history is one of the most common risk factors for having migraines.
Migraine symptoms may begin one to two days before the headache itself. Symptoms during this stage can include:
- food cravings
- fatigue or low energy
- frequent yawning
- neck stiffness
In migraines with aura, you may have problems with your vision, sensation, movement, and speech.
The next phase is known as the attack phase. Attack phase symptoms can last anywhere from hours to days. Symptoms may include:
- increased sensitivity to light and sound
- dizziness or feeling faint
- pain on one side of your head, either on the left side, right side, front, or back, or in your temples
- pulsing and throbbing head pain
After the attack phase, a person will often experience the postdrome phase. During this phase, there are usually changes in mood and feelings.
The length and intensity of these phases can occur to different degrees in different people.
What Causes Migraines?
Researchers haven’t identified a definitive cause for migraines. However, they have found some contributing factors such as a decrease in levels of the brain chemical serotonin.
Other factors that may trigger a migraine include:
- bright lights
- severe heat, or other extremes in weather
- changes in barometric pressure
- hormone changes in women, such as estrogen and progesterone fluctuations during menstruation, pregnancy, or menopause
- excess stress
- loud sounds
- intense physical activity
- skipping meals
- changes in sleep patterns
- use of certain medications, such as oral contraceptives or nitroglycerin
- unusual smells
- certain foods such as nitrates (a preservative in cured meats), aspartame (an artificial sugar), or monosodium glutamate (MSG), and tyramine
- alcohol use
Migraines can’t be cured, but your doctor can help you manage them effectively. This can reduce the frequency of migraines and treat the symptoms when they occur. Treatments can also help reduce the severity of the symptoms.
To help reduce the symptoms:
- Lie down in a quiet, dark room
- Massage your scalp or temples
- Place a cold cloth over your forehead or behind your neck
Your treatment plan may include a combination of:
- lifestyle adjustments, including stress management and avoiding migraine triggers
- medications without a prescription. This includes medications called triptans which were previously prescription only. (Eg sumatriptan).
- prescription medications that you take every day to help prevent migraines
- prescription migraine medications that you take as soon as a headache starts, to keep it from becoming severe and to ease symptoms
- prescription medications to help with nausea or vomiting
- hormone therapy
- Treatments such as chiro, physio, meditation, and acupuncture
Make an appointment to see your doctor if your headaches start to affect your daily life. Migraines can be severe, debilitating, and uncomfortable. Many treatment options are available. Knowing how to prevent migraines can often be the first step in managing them
Andrew Snow B. Pharm